Turkey said to grant citizenship to Hamas top brass planning attacks from Istanbul

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hands with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, prior to their meeting in Istanbul, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. (AP, Pool).

Most members of 12-member cell have already been given papers and passports, UK newspaper says, including one member who allegedly plotted to kill mayor of Jerusalem.

Turkey is in the process of granting citizenship to high-ranking members of terrorist group Hamas living in its territory who are said to be involved in directing terror attacks, one of whom allegedly oversaw a failed plot to assassinate the mayor of Jerusalem, a report has said.

Of the 12 senior members of the cell, most have already been given citizenship, British daily The Telegraph reported Thursday.

A senior source told the paper that seven have already received citizenship and passports while the other five are in the process of doing so. Some of the cell members are living in Turkey under aliases. In some cases citizenship has also been granted to the families of the Hamas members.

“These are not foot soldiers but the most senior Hamas operatives outside of Gaza,” a senior regional source told the paper.

The source said the Hamas members are “actively raising funds and directing operatives to carry out attacks in the present day.”

He added: “The Turkish Government gave in to demands 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.”

One of those who has apparently received citizenship is Zacharia Najib, who reportedly oversaw a plot to assassinate senior Israeli public figures, including the national police commissioner and Likud MK Nir Barkat, who at that time was mayor of Jerusalem. An East Jerusalem Palestinian who was recruited to the cause in a meeting in Istanbul was arrested after he returned to Israel and tried to buy a pistol.

Other members of the cell are Jihad Ya’amor and Hisham Hijaz, the report said. It noted that nearly all of the cell members were deported from Israel after their release from Israeli prisons in a 2011 deal that saw over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners released in return for Hamas freeing captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

A Turkish government spokesperson declined to comment to the Telegraph about the report, describing it as a baseless claim against Turkey by a foreign government.

A senior Hamas official denied the report, saying the group’s members “do not operate outside of the Palestinian territories” and also “do not engage in terror activities”.

Turkish citizens can already travel visa-free to a variety of countries, and according to the Telegraph, Turkey is working to obtain similar access to European Union countries.

Hamas is feared to be planning attacks against Israelis in Europe, the Telegraph said, and Turkish citizenship would enable its members to travel more easily.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is currently visiting Turkey for talks with senior officials, possibly including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the report said. The two last met in February.

Turkey sees Hamas as a legitimate political movement. Turkey has long maintained warm ties with Hamas, which have grown more overt as ties with Israel have chilled over the last decade. Israel has complained to Ankara about its ties to Hamas, but to no avail, according to the report.

In December 2019 the Telegraph cited Israeli sources as saying that Turkey is allowing Hamas members to plan attacks on its soil. Israeli officials told the paper at the time that Turkey has reneged on its 2015 commitment, negotiated by the US, not to allow Hamas officials to plot terror attacks against the Jewish state from its territory.

Hamas and Erdogan’s AKP party are linked politically. Both have close ideological ties to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement.

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