Turkish PM Erdogan hosts increasingly isolated Hamas leader Mashaal in Ankara

Visit comes day after Israeli, Palestinian negotiators hold 9th round of direct talks.

Mashaal and Erdogan meet in Ankara  370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mashaal and Erdogan meet in Ankara 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Increasingly isolated since the loss of a key ally in deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal traveled Tuesday to one of the few world leaders still willing to embrace him: Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
One Israeli official said that Hamas today was experiencing “a period of unprecedented isolation” because of its terrorism and extremism.
“Having such a high-level meeting says more about the people hosting them [Hamas] than anything else,” he said.
This was Mashaal’s third visit to Turkey since September 2012. He was last there in June, amid Erdogan’s repeated declarations that he was going to visit the Gaza Strip.
Such a visit seems increasingly unlikely, however, since Egyptian-Turkish relations were badly strained by Erdogan’s backing of Morsi and scathing criticism of Egyptian army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. It is very unlikely Egypt would allow him to pass into Gaza through the Rafah crossing.
Mashaal’s visit came amid rumors that he has worn out his welcome in Qatar, where he currently resides, and is looking for a new place to live. Erdogan’s welcome to Mashaal goes against the unfavorable opinion most Turks, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll, have of the terrorist organization.
A September poll of Muslim publics’ view of extremist groups found that 73 percent of the Turkish public held an unfavorable view of Hamas, as opposed to only 5% that viewed the group favorably.
This was the lowest rate of favorability for Hamas in any of the areas surveyed, which included the Palestinian territories and 10 Arab, Asian and African states.
Mashaal’s meeting with Erdogan came a day after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Jerusalem for the ninth time since restarting talks in July.
A senior Palestinian official said that the talks were intensifying, with the negotiating teams agreeing to meet for up to eight hours a day and to see one another more regularly than at the start of their latest diplomatic drive.
“As the Americans requested, we are upping the tempo of the discussions,” the official said, adding that Washington would evaluate the situation in the next two months and see how to narrow the inevitable differences.
“So far we have achieved nothing,” he said.
US envoy Martin Indyk said at a J Street conference in Washington last week that “at the negotiators level, the parties have engaged in direct, bilateral negotiations.
We’ve agreed that those talks should now be intensified and American involvement should be increased to facilitate these discussions.”
Israeli officials, respecting the “gag order” US Secretary of State John Kerry has effectively clamped on the talks, refused to comment on Monday’s talks.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who met Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos on Tuesday, also did not refer directly during the meeting to Monday’s discussions, and sufficed to brief him generally on the negotiations, adding that she was “cautiously optimistic.”
Reuters contributed to this report.