Turkish FM cancels visit over Gaza row

J'lem refuses to let minister enter Israel from Strip; Norwegian envoy's Mashaal meeting angers Israel.

Davutoglu 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Davutoglu 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called off a planned trip to Israel because Jerusalem would not assist him in entering Israel via Gaza, a senior diplomatic official said on Tuesday night. The official said the government's policy was not to hold meetings with diplomats who met in Gaza with Hamas leaders and then, during the same trip, wanted to hold talks with Israeli leaders. "If they go directly from Gaza and meetings with Hamas to Jerusalem and meetings with Israeli leaders, it creates the impression that we are legitimizing those visits," said the official. "We have no intention of doing that." Davutoglu's cancellation comes quickly on the heels of high-level meetings that were cancelled earlier this month with Norway's special envoy to the Middle East, John Hansen-Bauer, after Israel learned that he met Hamas head Khaled Mashaal in Damascus just before arriving. According to Israeli sources, the Norwegians did not inform Israel of the meeting, something that infuriated officials here when they caught wind of it. Turkey, Norway and Russia all have maintained contact with Hamas, despite the international Quartet's decision to have no contact with the organization until it recognizes Israel, forswears terrorism and accepts previous agreements. In a related development, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported from Gaza on Tuesday that a Norwegian security official visited Gaza recently and met Hamas leaders to talk about the issue of a prisoner exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit. Xinhua said the visit took place "last week" and "focused on the number of Palestinian prisoners that Israel would expel to some European countries including Norway." One of the issues reportedly holding up a prisoner swap is Israel's demand that a number of the security prisoners it would release be deported, something Hamas has reportedly rejected. It was not clear whether the Norwegian envoy's visit to Damascus and talks with Mashaal were connected to this proposal.