Turkey has allegedly given citizenship to senior Hamas operatives in Istanbul, raising concerns that the terrorist group will have greater freedom to organize attacks against Israeli citizens, according to a report from The Telegraph on Thursday.
According to the report, journalists from The Telegraph saw the Turkish identity papers and found that at least one of 12 senior Hamas members received Turkish citizenship and an 11-digit identity number.
While Hamas has been proscribed as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada and the European Union and has had its armed wing banned in the UK, Turkey argues that it is a legitimate organization that was democratically elected, in reference to the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections and violent removal of Fatah members from the Gaza Strip in 2007.
A senior source told The Telegraph that the Hamas operatives "are not foot soldiers but the most senior Hamas operatives outside of Gaza. [They] are actively raising funds and directing operatives to carry out attacks in the present day.
"The Turkish Government gave in to pressure by Hamas to grant citizenship to its operatives, thereby allowing them to travel more freely, endangering other countries that have listed Hamas as a terror group,” the source added.
After being contacted by The Telegraph, a spokesman for the Turkish government refused to comment, and claimed the accusations are baseless and made by a foreign government.
Similarly, a Hamas official allegedly denied the claims, noting that members of the terrorist organization only operate in the Palestinian territories.
Much of the concern stems from the fact that holders of Turkish passports are free to travel to Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Serbia, in addition to other countries, without requiring a visa. At the moment, Turkey is seeking to form an agreement with the EU on visa-free entry.
Turkey has denied that Hamas operatives are planning attacks on Israelis in Israel and abroad, which includes allegations of an assassination plot on former Jerusalem mayor and current Likud MK Nir Barkat.
Currently, Hamas head Ismail Haniyeh is on a visit to Turkey, which may include a potential meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, The Telegraph reported.
The two have met before, with the most recent meeting occurring last December in Istanbul, where they posed for a photograph together.
As noted in the report, some of the 12 Hamas operatives that have allegedly received Turkish citizenship were released and deported from Israel following the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange, which saw the release of 1027 mostly Palestinian prisoners and detainees, many with a violent past and blood on their hands through terrorist attacks on Israelis.
It was also reported that the families of the Hamas operatives were granted Turkish citizenship, and according to The Telegraph's source, the operatives are considered "active."