Turkey’s top diplomat said Tuesday his country has started discussion with Hamas over some 200 Israeli and foreign hostages the Palestinian militant group is holding in Gaza. Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said many governments have asked for Turkey’s help in securing their citizens’ release from Hamas. He did not say who had contacted Ankara or the details of the discussions but said, “We have started to discuss these issues, especially with the political wing of Hamas.”
Fidan’s comments came a day after he held a telephone call with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and a senior official in the ministry. A ministry source said the two discussed the latest developments in Gaza, the fate of the captives, and the possibility of releasing civilian prisoners held by Hamas. Lower-level contact between the two sides occurs regularly.
Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel’s southern towns and cities on Oct. 7, killing 1,300 people, including civilians, and taking dozens of hostages. The war has sparked international outrage and has put President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an awkward position: He initially condemned the civilian deaths but recently stepped up his rhetoric against Israel, saying Israel’s response to Hamas’ attack amounted to “a massacre” that violated human rights and internationally recognized law.
As the fighting continues, the U.S. has urged countries to pressure Hamas to free its hostages while avoiding direct involvement. American National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday that the United States has “no reason for Hamas to have hostages in the first place.” “Hamas should immediately release these individuals, who are unjustly held against their will,” he said.
In a statement, the White House also called for Israel to release the remaining captives in Gaza. It also urged Egypt to allow Palestinians and other people trapped by the Israeli military to leave Gaza through its border crossing with that nation. The border has been closed for a third day, leaving people with dual Palestinian-Israeli citizenship trying to leave the region stranded.
The war has drawn in Hamas’ regional backers, including Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah, helping it confront Israel. The conflict could strain tense relations between Turkey and Israel, which has become more critical of the Islamist movement since Erdogan’s rise to power in 2002. Turkey has long supported Hamas, even though it is considered a terrorist organization by the West. But it has sought to present itself as a champion of the Palestinians. It has embraced the group even as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Arab countries distance themselves from the militants amid warming ties with Israel. Hamas is one of the Palestinian territories’ two major political movements, along with Fatah. It governs the more than 2 million people living in the Gaza Strip but is best known for its armed resistance to Israel. It has outshined the beleaguered and corrupt Palestinian Authority led by Fatah in recent years.