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              President Barack Obama, accompanied by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures during their joint news conference, Thursday, May 16, 2013, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Erdogan promises to visit Hamas jihad group, while Obama looks on

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama stood silent today when Turkey’s Islamist prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to boost the jihadi government in Gaza with a visit to blockaded enclave.

“Most probably I would be visiting Gaza in June,” he said according to the translation service provided by the White House.

He said he would also visit the competing Palestinian-Arab government in the West Bank, located around Jerusalem.

“I place a lot of significance in this visit [to Gaza] in terms of peace in the Middle East, and this visit in no way means favoring one or the other,” he said.

The Gaza government is run by Hamas, a jihadi affiliate of Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood movement. Hamas frequently launches terror attack against Jews in Israel, and is classified as a terrorist group by Obama’s deputies.

The numerous attacks, and Hamas’ lack of recognition by other governments, have prompted Israel to keep an arms embargo around the enclave. Israel, however, provides civilian aid and electricity to the inhabitants of the enclave.

Obama did not respond to Erdogan’s comments about Gaza and Hamas, but he repeatedly praised Erdogan’s policies.

“It is a great pleasure to welcome my friend back to the White House. … This visit reflects the importance of our relations with our ally Turkey,” he said.

Obama also put a positive portrayed on Erdogan’s policy toward Israel. “I want to note the prime minister’s efforts to normalize relations with Israel,” he said.

The U.S. and numerous European governments say Hamas is a terrorist organization. It has funded and employed numerous rocket, bomb and missile attacks against Israeli civilians, and has repeatedly promised to destroy Israel.

Hamas is an close ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, which gained control of Egypt in 2012 following Obama’s withdrawal of support in 2011 from Egypt’s authoritarian and mostly secular government. Both Hamas and the Brotherhood are trying to write Islam’s restrictive rules into the nations’ constitutions and laws, and are stepping up hostility toward Israel.

Turkey has supported Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, although the three groups also compete for regional influence.

For example, Erdogan is demanding Israel compensate the families of nine Islamists who attacked Israeli soldiers who landed on their boat as it carried supplies to the Hamas government in Gaza. Prior to the Israeli arrival, the Islamists were singing songs that lauded the murder of Jews.

In March, under pressure from Obama, Israel’s government provided a partial apology to Turkey’s government, which helped pay for the ship.

“We are working with the Israeli government for compensation for those who lost their lives and the visit I will pay to Gaza will contribute to peace in Gaza and unity in Palestine, in my opinion,” Erdogan said in the Rose Garden.

“This has been a historic day, a historic turning point in the context of Turkish-American relations,” said Erdogan, who heads Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party. The party pushes a mix of Islamist and pro-Turkish policies.

State Department spokeswoman said, “We oppose engagement with #Hamas, terrorist organization,” according to a tweet from Voice of America reporter Natasha Mozgovaya.

Obama has described Erdogan as one of his closet foreign allies, and they have met numerous times to coordinate policies in the Middle East.

For example, their May 16 meetings are more extensive that those Obama held May 13 with David Cameron, the United Kingdom’s prime minister.

Obama met with Cameron for an hour before their joint press conference. Afterwards, Obama flew to New York for three fund-raisers. In contrast, Obama was slated to meet with Erdogan at 9:50, or two hours before their joint press conference. Also, Obama is scheduled to host “a working dinner” at 6:30 p.m. EST.