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Turkey discusses with Hamas the release of civilian hostages: Foreign ministry source

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan on Monday held a call with Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, a ministry source said, adding the two discussed the release of civilian prisoners held by the group.

Last week, a senior Turkish official had said Ankara was in talks with Hamas on the release of the prisoners. Monday’s call marks the first official announcement of contact between Ankara and Hamas, whose members Turkey has hosted for years.

The source said Fidan and Haniyeh had discussed the latest developments in the conflict, as well as “the possibilities of releasing civilians” taken from Israel, but did not provide further information.

Turkey has backed Palestinians in the past, while supporting a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict with Israel. It has offered to mediate the conflict and sent humanitarian aid to Gaza, which is stuck in Egypt as borders remained closed.

Turkey has also been working to mend long-strained ties with Israel. Unlike the United States and European Union, Ankara does not view Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Earlier on Monday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan spoke to his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi, as well as the Greek and British prime ministers to discuss ways to end the conflict and worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, his office said.

Erdogan’s office said he told Raisi “mutual positive steps” would bring a lasting solution to the conflict. It also said Erdogan had told British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that Western powers need to refrain from “provocative steps” and rights violations in Gaza, and realise the “unkept” promises to Palestinians.

He also warned Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis that the latest conflict could “lead to utterly negative consequences regionally and globally,” his office said.

Fidan, who also spoke to his Russian and Omani counterparts on Monday, will visit Lebanon on Tuesday, before going to Jeddah on Wednesday for an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting, the foreign ministry said.

It said the OIC would discuss steps “against the escalating indiscriminate military aggression of Israel against the entire people of Palestine.”

Ankara, which initially condemned civilian deaths and called for restraint, has toughened its rhetoric against Israel, saying Israel’s response to Hamas in Gaza amounted to a “massacre’, and a violation of human rights and international law. It has called Israel’s exile of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip “inhumane”.

Officials have said 1,300 Israelis, many civilians, were killed in Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7, and nearly 200 hostages taken back to Gaza. Authorities in Gaza, home to 2.3 million Palestinians, say more than 2,800 people have been killed there, around a quarter of them children.

(Published 16 October 2023, 23:59 IST)

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