Hamas is a political party, not an "arm of Iran," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview with Newsweek magazine published online Saturday. "If the whole world had given them the chance of becoming a political player maybe they would not be in a situation like this after the elections that they won."
Erdogan went on to say that the "political will of the Palestinian people" had been ignored by the world, in that the international community fails to "respect" Hamas's legitimacy. "Palestine today is an open-air prison," he said.
In the interview, which will appear in the February 9 issue of the magazine, Erdogan also spoke of indirect negotiations between Israel and Syria, which Turkey brokered last year. He said he was involved in "very intense telephone diplomacy" between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad. He segued into speaking of Hamas, saying that the group should have been involved in the Israel-Syria talks.
"Moreover during that talk, I said to Prime Minister Olmert that I believed I could be successful in freeing the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit," he added.
Erdogan said he told Olmert that Turkey could have mediated in order to secure Shalit's release and that Israel would have to free jailed Hamas leaders in return.
Ties have been particularly strained between Israel and Turkey recently due to Erdogan's criticism of Israeli occupation army “Operation Cast Lead” in Gaza and his public spat with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday.
During the Newsweek interview, Erdogan again slammed the Gaza offensive, reiterating his previous accusations of a disproportionate response to Hamas rocket fire on the Zinonist entity. He added, however, "I'm not saying that Hamas is a good organization and makes no mistakes. They have made mistakes, but I am evaluating the end result."
He went on to rebut criticism labeling his recent comments on Israel as anti-Semitic, saying "I have always declared that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity… my frustration is against the current Israeli government."
"Everything we have said is against the current Israeli government, nothing against Jews," he added. "I have stated very clearly that anyone who even thinks about doing anything against the Jews in Turkey will find me against them," he said, quipping, "Of course, I'm not going to ask Olmert to write my speeches."
Finally, answering a question on whether US President Barack Obama would "play a more even-handed role between the Palestinians and the Israelis," he said, "There is no justice right now. We expect justice from now on."
Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Sunday that while Israel had important strategic ties with Turkey, it also had "difficult" disagreements with the country over several issues, including policies regarding Hamas.
Livni told Israel Radio that she expected Turkey to respect Israel's position despite "hard" pictures coming out of Gaza and the numerous anti-Israel demonstrations in the country.