ISTANBUL - The leader of the Palestinian Authority Mahmud Abbas is scheduled to visit Turkey Friday, amid an ongoing ground offensive by Israel in Gaza. The ruling AK Party has strong ties with Hamas, but is facing accusations of meddling in cease-fire efforts. Friday saw renewed protests in Turkey against Israel.
Palestinian authority leader Abbas’s visit to Turkey is part of a short tour of regional countries and is being seen as an effort to consolidate support for the Palestinians amid an ongoing offensive by Israeli forces in Gaza.
Semih Idiz, a diplomatic columnist for the Turkish newspaper Taraf and the Al Monitor website, says bbas will receive strong support from Ankara but says the Turkish government will keep Hamas informed of the meetings.
"He is wanting to appear to rally support for the Palestinians at a time like this," he said. "But as Mahmud Abbas is Ankara talking to Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul we hear that Foreign Minister Davutoglu is on the phone to Khaled Meshaal the political leader of Hamas to reassure that talks with Abbas are not excluding Hamas."
Turkey’s ruling AK Party, which has its roots in Islamist politics, has close ties with the political Hamas leadership that controls Gaza. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been in the forefront of condemning Israel for its attack on Gaza. After attending Friday prayers he launched another verbal assault against Israel.
He says Israel is a country that threatens world peace. He told reporters it has never favored peace, Israel is committing genocide, adding the Western reaction might be different. But he says I have never tried to look sympathetic to dominant powers and I never will.
Observers point out, with Erdogan running for the presidency in August elections, such a tough stance is likely to play well with his religious grass roots supporters. In Istanbul thousands protested Israel after Friday prayers.
The protest follows similar large demonstrations on Thursday night against Israel’s diplomatic missions in Istanbul and Ankara. Despite the intervention by security forces, buildings sustained damage and drew a strong rebuke from Israel calling it a blatant breach of diplomatic regulations.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced Israel is reducing its presence to a diplomatic minimum, with the withdrawal of diplomats and their families. Bilateral relations are already at an all time low, following the killing 4 years ago of 9 Turkish activists aboard a ship seeking to break an Israeli economic embargo of the Gaza strip. Distrust between the countries was underlined with Tel Aviv-backed by Cairo accusing Ankara of being behind Hamas rejecting a proposed cease-fire.
Diplomatic columnist Idiz says Ankara has done little about such accusations but says there may be unrealistic expectations over its influence.
"There has been no official denial of the accusations, but some expected it could use some pressure on Hamas to stop it attacking Israel with these rockets," he said. "There is general assumption that it could have influence over Hamas. But things seem so out of hand that I don’t think any pressure from Turkey, or Qatar for that matter, which also has close ties with Hamas, could stop the crisis."
Ankara’s relations with Cairo remain strained since the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi, a key ally of Erdogan. The Turkish Foreign Ministry, despite repeated attempts, refused to comment on Cairo’s accusations.
According to some reports, Abbas could call on Ankara to use its influence to persuade Hamas to soften its stance. But Erdogan has strongly condemned Arab leaders for failing to take a tougher stance against Israel. Observers warn regional rivalries are threatening to only complicate an already extremely difficult effort to bring an end to ongoing fighting.