Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on the Palestinians on Saturday to “unite” against Israel, at the end of his meeting with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Palestinians to unite amid Israel’s war in Gaza following hours-long talks with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul on Saturday, his office said.

Erdogan has sought but failed to establish a foothold as a mediator in the Gaza conflict that has roiled the Middle East since October 7.

Tensions in the region are running high as the Hamas-run Palestinian territory braces for a new Israeli offensive and a reported Israeli attack on Iran.

Erdogan called on Palestinians to unite following the talks at the Dolmabahce palace, on the banks of the Bosphorus strait, that Turkish media reports said lasted more than two and a half hours.

“It is vital that Palestinians act with unity in this process. The strongest response to Israel and the path to victory lie in unity and integrity,” Erdogan said according to a Turkish presidency statement.

Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, and Israel, is a rival of the Fatah faction that rules the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank.

As soaring tensions between Iran and Israel stoke fears of a wider regional war, Erdogan said recent events should not allow Israel to “gain ground and that it is important to act in a way that keeps attention on Gaza.”

Close Ties with Haniyeh

With Qatar saying it will reassess its role as a mediator between Hamas and Israel, Erdogan sent Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan to Doha on Wednesday in a new sign that he wants a role.

“Even if only I, Tayyip Erdogan, remain, I will continue, as long as God gives me my life, to defend the Palestinian struggle and to be the voice of the oppressed Palestinian people,” the president said on Wednesday when he announced Haniyeh’s visit.

Hamas has had an office in Turkey since 2011, when Turkey helped secure the agreement for the group to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Erdogan has maintained links with Haniyeh, who has been a frequent visitor.

Fidan was a past head of Turkish intelligence, and the country provided information and passports to Hamas officials, including Haniyeh, according to Sinan Ciddi, a Turkey specialist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. However, this has never been confirmed by the Turkish authorities.

Erdogan Slams Israel

If Qatar withdraws from mediation efforts, Turkey could seek to increase its mediation profile based on its Hamas links.

Fidan held talks with visiting Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Saturday, with both men emphasizing the need to deliver more humanitarian aid to devastated Gaza, where the threat of famine looms.

Turkey is one of Gaza’s main humanitarian aid partners, sending 45,000 tons of supplies and medicine to the region.

Israel has said it is preparing an offensive against the Gazan city of Rafah, and the reported Israeli attack on the Iranian province of Isfahan, following Iran’s direct attack on Israel, has only clouded hopes of a peace breakthrough.

But Erdogan can only expect a “very limited” role because of his outspoken condemnation of Israel and its actions in Gaza, according to Ciddi.

Last year, the Turkish leader likened the tactics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to those of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and called Israel a “terrorist state” because of its offensive against Hamas after the militant group’s October 7 attacks on Israel.

Ciddi said that Erdogan would not be welcome in Israel and at most might be able to pass messages between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators.

Anne Chaon, with AFP