Skip to Content

Was Hamas leader in Turkey during October 7 attack? ‘He might have been,’ says Erdogan’s chief security adviser


By Scott McLean and Isil Sariyuce, CNN

(CNN) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s chief foreign policy and security adviser has defended his country’s decision to host senior Hamas figures, saying Turkey is engaging with Hamas “to bring about peace.”

Hamas members can freely come and go from Turkey and have a permanent presence in the country.

Its senior figures have met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan periodically throughout the years. Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh met Erdogan in July and there are unconfirmed reports Haniyeh was in Turkey – and not his regular domicile of Qatar – during the October 7 attacks.

In his first English-language interview since the war in Gaza began, Akif Cagatay Kilic said he didn’t know if Haniyeh was in Turkey on October 7, but conceded “he might have been.”

Kilic defended Turkey’s longstanding ties with Hamas, which many countries consider to be a terror group. Turkey does not.

“The issue is not where [Hamas members] are at what time, the issue is how can we resolve the conflict that we’re having, the war that we’re having right now,” he said.

“We’re talking on this issue in light of today’s events, but the reality is that in the past for example, the Israeli government itself asked us… more than 10 years ago, to engage with Hamas, to work with them.”

Kilic also warned Israel against following through on its domestic security service’s vow to assassinate Hamas leaders abroad.

Kilic said that any Israeli assassination attempt on Turkish soil would be “unacceptable on any terms.” Unnamed Turkish officials had previously warned Israel that there would be “serious consequences.”

President Erdogan has been among the world’s most outspoken leaders since the war began. He has called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “the butcher of Gaza” and said he will be tried in international court as a war criminal.

Diplomatic rifts between Turkey and Israel over Palestinian rights defined much of Erdogan’s two-decade tenure as president and, prior to that, prime minister.

Recently, Erdogan has tried to bury the hatchet. The Turkish president met with Netanyahu just over a week before the October 7 attack in a bid to improve ties.

When pressed on whether Turkey would also press for Hamas to be tried for the October 7 attack that killed more than 1,200 people – mostly civilians – Kilic was non-committal. He repeatedly made clear that the killing of civilians on either side of the conflict is “unacceptable” but also repeatedly deflected when pressed on whether Hamas should be held accountable in international courts.

“If we’re going back and forth on the same point, then we have 56 or 57 years of Palestinian occupation. I think it was the secretary general of the United Nations who said, ‘nothing happens in a vacuum,’” Kilic said, a reference to controversial comments about the October 7 attacks made by Antonio Guterres.

Turkey’s diplomatic and economic ties to Israel stretch back to 1949. Through the decades, economic ties have continued despite major ups and downs in diplomatic relations. And despite President Erdogan recently referring to Israel as a “terrorist state,” Kilic says there is “no talk about [economic] sanctions at this point… but, of course, the relationship is strained.”

Relations plunged in 2010 when nine Turks and an American were killed when Israeli troops raided the Mavi Marmara, a ship leading an aid flotilla to Gaza, which has been under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since 2007.

Last month, a group of Turkish and international NGOs announced a plan to launch a new aid flotilla to Gaza aiming to set sail late this year or early next.

Ankara has not said whether it would give its blessing for ships to depart from a Turkish port. Kilic said that at the moment, he can’t think of a reason to say no, but a final decision would be made in the future.

Ukraine and NATO

Turkey has positioned itself as an important mediator between Russia and Ukraine as the conflict grinds towards the two-year mark, at a relative stalemate. Turkey was heavily involved in early efforts to broker peace and played a crucial role in negotiating a security arrangement for ships carrying Ukrainian grain to world markets – a deal that has since expired.

Kilic agrees there are some signs of fatigue setting in amongst Ukraine’s western backers and Turkey would be keen to help mediate peace, but both sides need to be ready.

“There hasn’t been a direct approach from anybody to us to work towards any peace deal or something like that, but… we can also feel that there is a sense of the timing, you know, that it’s going on now for too long,” he said.

Erdogan has repeatedly boasted about maintaining a “balanced” approach on the Ukraine war, continuing relations with Putin despite the Russian president’s growing isolation from the Western world.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Turkish strongman has emerged as a key powerbroker, adopting a crucial balancing act between the two sides, widely known as “pro-Ukrainian neutrality.”

Recent signals that Turkish approval of Sweden’s long-pending NATO bid would come soon are now looking uncertain again. The issue is waiting on approval from the parliament of Turkey, which has NATO’s second-largest military.

Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan suggested last month that Sweden’s bid would be approved by the end of the year, but more recently the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Ankara said there was no rush to bring the bill forward for a vote.

President Erdogan said this month he expects the US congress to approve the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey at the same time as Sweden’s NATO bid goes through. There is no clear timeline for that to happen.

Kilic was coy on whether the F-16s were a hard condition for Turkey, but said “it would help immensely” because “there is a certain amount of resistance” to the passage in parliament right now. Erdogan has repeatedly accused Sweden of harboring militants from the banned Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK).

Asked if it could still get done this year, he said “in politics and the world of international relations, there’s always a possibility to do anything… It depends on how, I think, requirements and demands regarding a NATO ally are met or not met.”

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - World

Jump to comments ↓



KIFI Local News 8 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content