State Dep't: ‘We Continue to Raise Our Concerns’ With Turkey About High-Level Ties With Hamas Terrorists

Patrick Goodenough | December 30, 2014 | 4:25pm EST
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Turkish then-Prime Minister (now president) Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Ankara in September 2012. (AP Photo, File)

( – A day after having no comment to offer on Turkey’s feting of a top Hamas leader, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Tuesday the administration continues to view the group as a terrorist organization, and has raised its objections with Turkey.

“Our position on Hamas has not changed; Hamas is a foreign terrorist organization,” he told a daily press briefing. “Hamas continues to engage in terrorist activity, and demonstrated its intentions – among other times – during this summer’s conflict with Israel.”

Hamas’ Qatar-based leader Khaled Meshaal met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, and the following day was the guest of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at a conference of the ruling Justice and Development Party, where he delivered a brief speech.

Hamas, whose declared goal is to destroy Israel, has been designated a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) under U.S. law since 1997. Turkey is a NATO ally.

Rathke said the administration “continue[s] to raise our concerns about the relationship between Hamas and Turkey with senior Turkish officials, including after learning of Khaled Meshaal’s recent visit there.”

“Is that the extent of it?” he was asked. “You just say we’re concerned? I mean, this is a NATO ally hosting an avowed enemy of one of your biggest allies.”

“Well, we have urged the government of Turkey to press Hamas to reduce tensions and prevent violence,” Rathke replied. “We raise this at senior levels with our Turkish counterparts.”

Asked whether the top-level reception Meshaal received at the weekend was an indication that the U.S. concerns are being addressed, he said, “Well, I think you can draw your own conclusions from that.”

“But certainly, we take Hamas as a terrorist organization very seriously,” Rathke added. “That’s why they’re a designated FTO, and that’s why we express our concerns to Turkey when things such as this happen.”

Asked whether the administration had raised the issue of Meshaal’s visit specifically with Davutoglu or with Turkey’s foreign minister, he said he did not know exactly to whom the objections were aired.

“But we’ve raised it at senior levels with Turkey.”

Palestinian Hamas fighters display weaponry during a rally to commemorate the group's 27th anniversary, in Gaza City, Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

‘Under no illusions’

Hamas was established in 1987 as the Palestinian branch of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Its founding charter that says all Muslims are duty-bound to join a jihad to destroy Israel, and that it considers itself at the forefront of the fight against world Zionism and “the warmongering Jews.”

Hamas is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, rocket assaults and other attacks since the interim Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993. At least 15 Americans were killed between 1993 and 2002 in claimed Hamas attacks. Still others were killed in attacks which the group is suspected to have carried out, but did not claim responsibility.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since violently seizing control from the larger Palestinian faction, Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah, seven years ago.

In his former role as prime minister and now as president, Erdogan, an arch-critic of Israel, rejects the notion that Hamas is a terrorist organization.

Despite his stance, the Obama administration in 2011 invited Turkey to co-chair its flagship new anti-terror initiative, the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF).

Hamas’ other key sponsor, Qatar, is also one of the 30 founding members of the GCTF. (Israel has not been invited to join.)

Meshaal and the Hamas “political bureau” he heads have been based in Qatar’s capital, Doha, since early 2012, when he moved from Damascus amid the conflict there.

Qatar is also a key U.S. ally in the region, and Rathke was asked at Tuesday’s briefing why – if the U.S. objects to Meshaal’s high-level visit to Turkey – it was not also “objectionable” that Qatar provides him with a permanent base.

“I think our partners and allies are under no illusions as to our views about Hamas,” he said, without elaborating further.

Citing both Turkey and Qatar, 24 members of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittees dealing with the Middle East and terrorism called on the U.S. Treasury Department this month to act against those “who clearly violate U.S. laws by assisting Hamas and its proxies.”

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