Israel calls for closure of Hamas’ Istanbul office to normalise Turkey relations

Israel relayed a statement to Ankara that there would be no thaw in relations until the military wing of militant Islamist group Hamas in Istanbul is shut down, the Israeli outlet YNet reported on Monday. 

Israel has made this a precondition to returning its ambassador to Ankara, according to YNet. 

Both countries pulled out their ambassadors respectively in 2018, downgrading their ties to the level of charges d'affaires.

The issue of Turkey’s patronage of Hamas has been a thorn in the side of its relationship with Israel for years now. 

Hamas established an office in Istanbul after the Syrian Civil War forced it to abandon one of its bureaus in Damascus. Prominent Hamas military leader Salah Al-Arouri, who headed the Istanbul office, was expelled from the city as part of an earlier attempt at fixing relations between Turkey and Israel in 2015, but Turkish support for Hamas has not been eliminated.

In August, Erdoğan hosted two Hamas leaders in Istanbul, in a move that was met with condemnation by Washington.

Israel, United States and several European countries designate Hamas a terrorist organisation. Turkey rejects this designation and insists the group is a legitimate political actor.

From Turkey, Hamas is accused of plotting military activities against Israel, including cyber attacks and Israel has constantly called on Turkish authorities to clamp down on this to limited avail. Perhaps the biggest offense to Israel came through a report that Turkey granted citizenship to several top Hamas officials and sat Erdoğan down with its leadership in August, drawing the ire of both Tel Aviv and Washington. 

Since late November, Turkey has made clear its interest in warming its relations with Israel. Hakan Fidan, Turkey’s intelligence chief, has met secretly with Israeli officials and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said before he would like to see relations improve. 

Turkey is also reportedly prepared to send a new ambassador to Tel Aviv, but it has yet to make any official announcement of the appointment.
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