Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday he would probably make a planned trip to Gaza in June and that he was also expecting to visit the West Bank.
Despite opposition from Washington, Erdogan gave new details at a news conference with US President Barack Obama of the Gaza trip, which will test Turkey’s relations with Israel after a US-brokered rapprochement.
“According to my plan, most probably I would be visiting Gaza in June,” said Erdogan, who had promised details of the trip after his talks with Obama.
“But it will not be a visit only to Gaza. I will also go to the West Bank,” he said, in what appeared to be a partial bid to mollify Washington.
The dual stops mean Erdogan would meet with the Hamas rulers of Gaza as well as with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, likely in Ramallah.
“I place a lot of significance on this visit in terms of peace in the Middle East. I’m hoping that that visit will contribute to unity in Palestine,” the Turkish leader said.
Washington had urged Erdogan to postpone any visit to the impoverished Gaza Strip, saying it would be a “distraction” from its efforts to revive the moribund Middle East peace process.
“As we’ve said consistently, we oppose engagement with Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization which remains a destabilizing force in Gaza and the region,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters later.
“We urge all parties who share our interest in the creation of a Palestinian state to take steps that promote the resumption of peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel.”
Secretary of State John Kerry said during a visit to Turkey last month that the trip would be “better delayed,” urging Erdogan to wait for the “right circumstances.”
But Erdogan hit back, saying “we wish he had not said that” and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told reporters it was up to Turkey to decide what to do.
Erdogan has said his visit would be aimed at pushing for an end to Israel’s embargo on the Gaza Strip, but Washington fears it could damage the truce Obama brokered between Washington’s two key regional allies.
The breakthrough came after Erdogan accepted an apology from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the deaths of nine Turks during a 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla as Obama left Israel after a visit in March.