ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey has given passports to a dozen Hamas members in Istanbul, a senior Israeli diplomat said on Wednesday, describing the move as “a very unfriendly step” which his government would raise with Turkish officials.
Speaking days after Turkey’s president met visiting Hamas leaders, charge d’affaires Roey Gilad said Israel had already told Turkey last year that Hamas was carrying out “terror-related activity” in Istanbul, but Turkey had not taken action.
The two countries have had a bitter falling out in recent years, despite strong commercial ties, expelling ambassadors in 2018. President Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly condemned Israel’s West Bank occupation and treatment of Palestinians.
Gilad said Israel had proof that Turkey was providing passports and identity cards to members of Hamas, which runs Gaza and is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States, Israel and European Union.
“Some are in the process, some already got (the documents), but we are talking about around a dozen,” he said.
“We have already one document that we will present to the government in copy,” he said. “Judging by the last experience we had by presenting a well-based portfolio to the government... and getting no reply, I must say I don’t have high hopes that something will be done this time.”
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Saturday, Erdogan hosted Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh and other officials in Istanbul for the second time this year, prompting objections from Washington, which linked one of the men to terrorist attacks, hijackings and kidnappings. Ankara said it rejected the U.S. criticism.
Gilad said the Hamas members who received Turkish documents were financing and organising terrorism from Istanbul, which Turkey has previously denied. Many of them came to Turkey under a 2011 deal between Turkey and Israel to exchange a captured Israeli soldier for more than 1,000 prisoners, Gilad said.
Hamas seized Gaza from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, and the group has fought three wars with Israel since then. Turkey says Hamas is a legitimate political movement that was elected democratically.
Gilad said the current tensions ruled out any cooperation on exploiting gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey is challenging maritime claims by Greece, Cyprus and their allies.
Even if ties with Turkey were to improve, Israel would not “throw away” strategic alliances it has built up with other nations over the last 10 years, Gilad said. “Israel is not going to throw under the bus Greece, Cyprus or Egypt”.
Editing by Dominic Evans and Angus MacSwan
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