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Turkey says 'intensive contacts' underway to free Israel's hostages with Hamas

The Turkish president said his government, which has channels to both Hamas and Israel, is seeking the release of hostages held in Gaza, but hinted at Western obstacles.
A demonstrator holds a placard during a rally in Milan on the sixth day of the war between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement, October 12, 2023.

ANKARA — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said his government is working intensively with all parties for the release of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, and in a thinly veiled jab at Western capitals, also charged that “provocative approaches” by some actors have been hindering the effort. 

Nearly 150 people are believed to have been kidnapped and transported to Gaza by Hamas during its surprise attack launched against Israel last Saturday.

Speaking at the closure of the Turkey-Africa business forum in Istanbul, Erdogan said he and members of his government, including Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and Ibrahim Kalin, head of the National Intelligence Agency, were actively pursuing their release. 

“We are carrying on with our intensive contacts to find a way out of the crisis, starting with the release of the hostages,” he said, before charging that “provocative approaches of some actors” were undermining Turkey’s efforts, “adding fuel to the fire.” The comments appeared to be directed at Western powers for their unequivocal support of Israel after Hamas' assault over the weekend.

As of Friday, the ensuing war had left at least 1,300 Israelis and 1,500 Palestinians dead. “We are concerned that the escalation may deepen further and spread to the region,” Erdogan said.

Describing the Israeli blockade of Gaza as a “disgraceful stain,” Erdogan ratcheted up his criticism of Israel. “Cutting off electricity, water, fuel and food to 2 million people is a violation of the most fundamental human rights,” he said. “As of now, Gaza is oppressed, it's a victim, but Israel is not.”

Erdogan also announced that Turkey would continue its efforts to get humanitarian aid to Gaza in close cooperation with Egypt. 

Earlier Friday, a plane carrying the first load of Turkish humanitarian assistance landed at Egypt's El Arish International Airport. It remains unclear whether the supplies can be delivered as Israel gears up for a ground invasion of Gaza.

Fidan, Turkey's top diplomat, is set to meet with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, in Cairo later in the day. Steps aimed at securing the release of the hostages are expected to be a top agenda item. Unnamed senior Turkish officials were quoted by Turkish media earlier this week as saying that Ankara was in contact with Hamas for the release of the hostages, who are thought to include foreigners as well as Israelis.

On Thursday, Omer Celik, spokesperson for the ruling Justice and Development Party, said the relevant agencies of the Turkish government were ready to launch talks on a potential swap should the involved parties agree.

In September, Turkey along with Saudi Arabia successfully negotiated an exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine. As one of the rare countries to have open channels with both Hamas and Israel, Turkey is as well positioned as anyone to succeed at a swap between the two parties. 

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