Hamas is not a terror organization, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview with U.S. television late Wednesday, saying he felt the recently penned Palestinian reconciliation agreement was an essential step toward Mideast peace.
Erdogan's comments came one day after Hamas Gaza strongman Mahmoud Zahar said that while his organization would accept a Palestinian state within 1967 borders, it would never recognize Israel, as a result of the damage such a move would do to Palestinian refugees in the "diaspora."
Senior Israeli officials, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have voiced opposition to Fatah's new unity deal with Hamas, saying that a Palestinian government that included a terrorist group calling for Israel's destruction could not be a partner for peace.
Speaking to Charlie Rose on Wednesday, however, the Turkish PM chimed in on the recently achieved unity agreement between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, indicating that he did not feel Hamas was an obstacle in achieving Mideast peace.
"Let me give you a very clear message, I don't see Hamas as a terror organization. Hamas is a political party -- it emerged as a political party that appeared as a political party," Erdogan told Charlie Rose, adding: "it is a resistance movement trying to protect its country under occupation."
Going further, the Turkish PM said the world should not "mix terrorist organizations with such an organization, and they entered into the elections," adding that Hamas "won the elections, they had ministers, and they had parliament speakers who were imprisoned by Israel, about 35 ministers and members of parliament in Israel prisons."
"Where is terrorism? They entered into the elections and after the elections this is how they were reacted, I mean, calling them terrorists, this would be disrespect to the will of the Palestinian people," Erdogan added.
Referring to the impact the unity agreement Hamas signed with Fatah, Erdogan said: "I am very pleased with what had happened. I am very pleased. Let me express it very clearly, because this is what we wanted to see for many years."
The Turkish PM added that "if peace will come to Palestine, if peace will come to Middle East, this will start from the internal peace in Palestine, and then and this target ahead will be discussed much more -- much effectively. I discussed it with Tony Blair when he was chairing this Quartet."
Erdogan also referred to ongoing diplomatic tensions with Israel, a once stable relationship that has been descending in a downward spiral ever since Israel's Gaza war against Hamas and the raid by Israeli forces on a Turkish Gaza-bound aid flotilla.
"This is absolutely certain. I mean, to this, embargo, three things: apology, compensation, and lifting of embargo on Gaza. It has to be lifted," Erdogan said.
"We in the Middle East, we are a country that's accepted the statehood of Israel and Palestine," the Turkish PM said that his recommend "this to everybody, we defend this."
"And we bring together the sides. We believe that we can. But, of course, we need everybody should know their limits, their borders, and then we can take these steps," Erdogan said.
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