Turkey tightening restrictions on Hamas, dozens deported - officials

Turkey has increased restrictions on the leaders and activists of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in the country, deporting dozens and preventing others from entering, The New Arab reported on Monday, citing senior Hamas officials.

Ankara’s "arbitrary" new measures against the group are efforts by Turkey to sacrifice its relationship with Hamas in order to “revive its internal economy,’’ the officials said.

The report arrives as Turkey and Israel in recent months have been taking steps to improve relations, fractured by Turkey’s condemnation of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, Turkish support for Hamas and disputes over natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean.

Ties between the countries deteriorated markedly in 2010, when Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish citizens trying to enter Gaza aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel and the United States. Turkey for years has provided funds and/or citizenship to top Hamas officials, prompting Israeli rebukes.

"The movement's members are facing increasingly severe restrictions by the Turkish authorities in exchange for allowing some of them to stay in Turkish territory for a certain period," once source told The New Arab.

"We know that Ankara has not changed its position on the Palestinian cause, but it is facing very difficult economic pressures, which prompted it to re-normalise its relations with regional and international countries," another source said.

"Turkey submitted to international and Israeli blackmail in order to save its economy (...) and we knew very well that restoring relations with Israel would have a political price. Therefore, we were not surprised by the Turkish request from many of the movement's members to leave the country," the source added.

In March, Israel's President Isaac Herzog met his counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey on the first visit by an Israeli head of state since 2007, state-run Anadolu news agency reported. The two leaders discuss steps to improve cooperation and Erdoğan said the visit provided "an opportunity’’ in the field of energy, it said.

Last month, Israeli media reported that Turkey deported dozens of members of Hamas in a bid to repair ties with Israel.

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