Prime Minister Erdoğan says could unexpectedly visit Gaza
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said he could pay an "unexpected" visit to Gaza after Israel and Hamas secured an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire deal on Wednesday.

Erdoğan told reporters in a plane en route to Ankara from Islamabad on Thursday that he does not believe Hamas will violate the terms of the truce unless Israel resumes its bombing. When asked if he is planning to visit Gaza, Erdoğan said, "I could go unexpectedly."

A total of eight days of punishing Israeli air strikes on Gaza and a barrage of Hamas rocket fire at Israel ended inconclusively on Wednesday. While Israel said it inflicted heavy damage on the militants, Gaza's Hamas rulers claimed that Israel's decision not to send in ground troops, as it had four years ago, was a sign of a new deterrent power held by Hamas.

However, the vague language of the agreement announced on Wednesday and deep hostility between the combatants made it far from certain the bloodshed would end or that either side will get everything it wants. Israel seeks an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza, while Hamas wants a complete lifting of the border blockade imposed in 2007, after the group's takeover of Gaza.

Israeli officials also made it clear that their position had not warmed toward Hamas, which they view as a terrorist group aligned with their archenemy Iran and pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state.

Israel launched the offensive on Nov. 14 to halt renewed rocket fire from Gaza, unleashing some 1,500 air strikes on Hamas-linked targets, while Hamas and other Gaza militants showered Israel with just as many rockets.

The eight days of fighting killed 161 Palestinians, including 71 civilians. Six Israelis, two soldiers and four civilians were killed and dozens others wounded by rockets fired into residential neighborhoods.

Erdoğan claimed that Turkey, Egypt and Qatar had made the most effective diplomatic overtures in ending the eight-day fighting in Gaza and that the states decided to conduct the diplomacy under the leadership of Egypt. He added that these countries had made many efforts to secure the truce but nothing could be done until US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Israel on Tuesday.

Prior to Wednesday's statement, Erdoğan also announced early this month that he plans to visit the Gaza Strip in the near future, an announcement that has raised the tensions between two rival Palestinian groups, Hamas and Fatah, which have been at odds in recent years.

In his first announcement, Erdoğan said that authorities are having talks with officials in Gaza to arrange the trip. He even added that he had extended an invitation to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian National Authority, which controls the Israel-occupied West Bank and is the main political rival to Hamas, to visit Gaza together. "He was warm to the suggestion," Erdoğan said.

However, the office of Fatah, the party headed by Abbas, reacted to Erdoğan's words on Nov. 3. A spokesman for Abbas, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said that is was unacceptable that a country would be invited to its own lands.

According to The New York Times, Erdoğan's plan to visit Gaza would draw Turkey away from the Palestinian government in the West Bank as well as from Israel and the West, which cooperate with the Abbas government. The visit would also strengthen the legitimacy of Hamas, the newspaper reported.

Analysts also argue that Erdoğan's visit would be a slap in the face to the Abbas administration, which has already lost support from the Arab world.

(Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2012-11-23 20:00:01
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