International backlash after Turkish President Erdogan calls Hamas a “liberation group” and “mujahideen”, cancels Israel trip

ANKARA — On Wednesday, in another significant departure from Turkey’s NATO allies and the European Union, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Hamas should not be labeled a terrorist organization, referring to it as a “liberation group” engaged a fight to protect Palestinian lands.

Erdogan’s comments come in the wake of the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas Gaza conflict spurred by a large-scale attack during which Hamas killed over 1,400 people and kidnaped more than 200 others. Turkey, a NATO member, expressed condemnation for these casualties while simultaneously urging Israeli forces to exercise restraint in their response.

“Hamas is not a terrorist organization; it is a liberation group, “mujahideen” waging a battle to protect its lands and people,” Erdogan said during a speech to lawmakers from his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The term “mujahideen” refers to those who fight for their faith in Arabic.

In contrast to the stance of many NATO nations and the EU, Turkey has consistently refrained from designating Hamas as a terrorist organization and even hosts members of the group on its territory.

Israel swiftly rejected Erdogan’s characterization of Hamas, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat describing the group as “a despicable terrorist organization.”

Erdogan’s remarks prompted a strong reaction from Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who described them as “disgusting” and counterproductive to de-escalation efforts. Salvini called on Italy’s foreign minister to formally protest Erdogan’s statements to the Turkish government.

Across the Atlantic, members of the United States Congress voiced their anger, urging President Joe Biden to hold Turkey accountable for its alleged support and facilitation of Hamas’ military operations. They demanded a thorough investigation into potential Turkish official or bank involvement in financing Hamas and the imposition of sanctions on any implicated financial institutions.

The timing of the ongoing conflict in Gaza is critical as Turkey has been working to mend its strained ties with Israel, focusing on energy as a potential area of cooperation. Erdogan’s statements indicated a halt in these normalization efforts, with him accusing Israel of taking advantage of Turkey’s “good intentions”. He further announced the cancellation of a previously planned visit to Israel.