Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, in his strongest comments yet on the Gaza conflict, on Wednesday said the Palestinian militant group Hamas was not a terrorist organisation.
Erdogan however described the Hamas group as a liberation group fighting to protect Palestinian lands and people.
NATO member Turkey condemned the civilian deaths caused by Hamas’ Oct. 7 rampage in southern Israel but also urged Israeli forces to act with restraint.
As the violence and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza have worsened, Ankara has strongly criticised Israel’s bombardment of the territory.
Erdogan made the proclamation while speaking with lawmakers from his ruling AK Party, using an Arabic word denoting those who fight for their faith.
“Hamas is not a terrorist organisation, it is a liberation group, ‘mujahideen’ waging a battle to protect its lands and people.’’
Unlike many of its NATO allies and the European Union, Turkey does not consider Hamas a terrorist organisation and hosts members of the group on its territory.
Ankara backs a two-state solution to the decades-old Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Erdogan also slammed Western powers for supporting Israel’s bombing of Gaza and called for an immediate ceasefire, the unhindered entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and for Muslim countries to work together to stop the violence.
“The perpetrators of the massacre and the destruction taking place in Gaza are those providing unlimited support for Israel,” Erdogan said.
“Israel’s attacks on Gaza, for both itself and those supporting them, amount to murder and mental illness.’’
Erdogan’s comments drew a swift rebuke from Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who said they were “grave and disgusting and did not help with de-escalation.’’
He urged Italy’s foreign minister to lodge a formal protest with Ankara. (dpa/NAN)