Turkey's foreign minister defended his meeting with Hamas on Sunday, saying Turkey had a vested interest in the Palestinian problem and would continue to work to stop the violence between Israelis and Palestinians. "Why should we not be interested in helping the region when some European countries that are further away are interested in affairs here?" Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul asked at a party meeting near Ankara. Hamas, sworn to destroy Israel and considered a terrorist organization by the United States and many Western nations, had won an election that international observers called the freest and most democratic in Arab history, Gul said. "Whoever's blood is spilled, whether it's a Muslim's, a Jew's, a Christian's, a Palestinian's or an Israeli's, it has to stop," he said. Turkey, an Islamic country now led by a party with deep Islamist roots, has close historical and military ties with Israel and often positions itself as a mediator in conflicts between the Islamic world and the West.