Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Court Rules French Genocide Law is Unconstitutional

A contentious French law criminalising the denial of the Armenian genocide was ruled unconstitutional by the country's top judicial body Tuesday. The Constitutional Council said the law, which had angered Turkey, infringed on freedom of speech.

AFP - France’s top judicial body ruled Tuesday that a law backed by President Nicolas Sarkozy to punish denial of the Armenian genocide was unconstitutional as it infringed on freedom of expression.

“The Council deems the law contrary to the constitution,” the Constitutional Council said of the legislation that plunged France’s relations with Turkey into crisis.


President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered his government to draft a new law punishing denial of the Armenian genocide Tuesday after France's top court struck down a previous bill.

Noting the "great disappointment and profound sadness" of the law's backers, a statement from Sarkozy said: "He has ordered the government to prepare a new draft, taking into account the Constitutional Council's decision."

“The council rules that by punishing anyone contesting the existence of... crimes that lawmakers themselves recognised or qualified as such, lawmakers committed an unconstitutional attack on freedom of expression,” it said.

France had already officially recognised the killingis as a genocide, but the new law sought to go further by punishing anyone who denies this with up to a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($57,000).

The Council said that it was concerned “not to enter into the realm of responsibility that belongs to historians”.

While the Council’s ruling is final, Sarkozy, who is facing a tough re-election battle in less than two months, vowed on February 1 that he would submit a new draft of the law if the Constitutional Council rejected it.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Turkey Urged to Allow Greater Religious Freedom

The spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians said Monday that Turkey's new constitution should grant equal rights to minorities in the country and safeguard religious freedoms.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I met with members of a parliamentary subcommittee seeking an all-party consensus in drawing up a new constitution, which will replace the one ratified in 1982 while Turkey was under military rule. The subcommittee is meeting with non-governmental organizations and representatives of minority groups for input on the drafting of the new laws.

Mostly Muslim Turkey, which is seeking to join the European Union, has small Christian and Jewish communities. The EU has made improved rights for the religious groups a condition for membership.

Turkey's existing constitution guarantees religious freedom, but when it comes to minority religions the country has long been criticized for restricting the training of clergy and the ownership of places of worship, and for interfering with the selection of church leaders. It also has recognized Bartholomew I as the leader of the local church in Turkey, but not as ecumenical patriarch of all Orthodox Christians.

For decades, Turkey has mostly ignored demands of the Patriarchate, mainly due to mistrust stemming from a rivalry with Greece. However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has pledged to address the problems of religious minorities and said he hopes the new constitution will correct democratic shortfalls.

Bartholomew sounded optimistic about the new constitution.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I , the... View Full Caption

"Unfortunately there have been injustices toward minorities until now," Bartholomew said. "These are slowly being corrected and changed. A new Turkey is being born."

Bartholomew told reporters he favors a constitution that promotes equal rights and religious freedoms, including the reopening of a Greek Orthodox seminary that trained generations of patriarchs.

"We asked for equality," Bartholomew said after the meeting. "In education, we asked that the seminary be reopened. We asked for freedom of religion and conscious, for freedom of worship."

Bartholomew, who is based in Istanbul, is the spiritual leader of hundreds of millions of Orthodox Christians worldwide.

An 18-page report presented to the subcommittee also demands government funds for minority schools and places of worship, Bartholomew said.

"Until now there has been no state aid for any churches or minority schools," Bartholomew said. "If we are talking of equality, this equality should be present in all fields."

The subcommittee on Monday also heard the demands of Turkey's tiny Assyrian Christian community.

A community leader, Kuryalos Ergun, said the Assyrians — one of the world's oldest Christian communities — want religious minorities to be represented in a government agency that regulates mosques and imams in Turkey, and want minority clergy to be paid and employed by the state the same way imams are.

The Orthodox Christians want their Halki Theological School reopened in Turkey. Located, on Heybeliada Island, near Istanbul, it stopped admitting new students in 1971 under a Turkish law that put religious and military training under state control. The school closed its doors in 1985, when its last students graduated.

The patriarch has long complained that Halki's closure has prevented raising new leaders for the church, and that Turkish laws that require a patriarch to be a Turkish citizen make it difficult for the nation's dwindling Greek community of several thousand to produce candidates.

In 2010, the government granted Turkish citizenship to more than a dozen senior clerics from North and South America as well as Hong Kong, to help address the issue.

In August, the government agreed to return hundreds of properties that were confiscated from Christian and Jewish minorities over the past 75 years.
Source: Associated Press

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Turkey and China 'helping Iran evade UN sanctions'

Turkey and China are helping Iran to evade UN sanctions by providing them with secret banking facilities to purchase goods, according to Western security officials.

In an attempt to escape the effects of the wide-ranging sanctions imposed over Iran's illegal nuclear programme, Iran's central bank is using a number of financial institutions in China and Turkey to fund the purchase of vital goods to keep the Iranian economy afloat.

According to Western security officials China, which is Iran's largest oil trading partner, is playing a major role in helping Iran to avoid the sanctions.

Instead of transferring payments to Iran owed from oil purchases, Chinese banks are using the money to buy goods on behalf of the Iranians and then shipping them to Iran.

"It is like an old-fashioned barter mechanism," explained a senior security official. "The money Iran earns from oil sales goes into banks in China and is then used for Iranian purchases of other goods and materials. It is a very good way of getting round the sanctions." Security officials have also identified a number of financial institutions in Turkey that are helping Iran to evade sanctions.

Turkey, which maintains good diplomatic relations with Tehran, is particularly useful to Tehran because of its close trading ties with Europe.

Investigators claim they have found evidence of Turkish businesses trying to purchase financial institutions in Europe on behalf of Iran which can then be used by Tehran to purchase much-needed goods and materials for its stricken economy.

According to security officials responsible for monitoring the effectiveness of the sanctions, the sanctions-busting operation is being masterminded by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, who are said to own more than 50 percent of the Iranian economy.

They are taking an increasingly influential role in the running of the Central Bank of Iran, which is itself the subject of international sanctions. "Today the Central Bank of Iran is being run like an intelligence operation," said one investigator.

Iran is particularly keen to have access to banks in Germany, which is one of the world's leading handlers of euros. U.S. Treasury department officials have identified a number of transactions passing through German banks that appear to have come from Turkey, but in fact are being controlled by Tehran. In addition to the eurozone Iran is also trying to transfer funds through Ukraine and Belorussia.

The visit takes place amid warnings from diplomats based in Vienna, the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iran may be preparing to expand its nuclear programme to an underground site near the city of Qom, enabling it to speed up the production of enriched uranium, a vital component for nuclear weapons.

Reports said Tehran has put finishing touches for the installation of thousands of new-generation centrifuges at the facility - machines that can produce enriched uranium much more quickly and efficiently than its present machines.
Source: Daily Telegraph

Saturday, 18 February 2012

German Children Forced to Study Islam and Learn Turkish

German children in Bavaria are being forced to study Islam and even learn Turkish in their religion class. The photograph shows some of the teaching materials used. One sheet reproduces an Islamic prayer in German:
"I believe in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, in the Day of Judgment, and that Fate good and bad is given by Allah, and the life after death."

Another urges the children to learn Turkish so they can create a good atmosphere when they meet children of Turkish descent living in Germany.
Building language bridges

Although Arabic is the most important language for Islam, most Muslims in Germany speak Turkish. When you meet Turkish young people, by using a few phrases in their language you can contribute to a good atmosphere and mutual understanding.

It then gives German and Turkish versions of a few common phrases such as "Hello", "Goodbye", "How are you?" and the Islamic greeting "Peace be upon you", normally only used by Muslims to other Muslims.

Other texts urge the children to find out where their local mosque is and go there to have a look around.

Source: ProBayern.net Via: SOS Heimat

Friday, 17 February 2012

Turkey Will Not Allow NATO to Share Intelligence with Israel

ANKARA — Turkey will never allow any third country, particularly Israel, to use intelligence obtained by a NATO radar system, its foreign minister said on Friday.

"We will never allow any third country to use any NATO facility. Our position will be even more clear if it is particularly Israel," Davutoglu told a joint news conference with visiting NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Ankara.

His remarks came after some media outlets reported that the United States and Israel have carried out a joint missile test by using intelligence gathered by a NATO radar system based in eastern Turkey.

Last year Ankara decided to host in a military facility base near Malatya in the southeast an early warning radar as part of NATO's defense architecture.

"It is a NATO system and we appreciate that Turkey has agreed to host one of the facilities," said Rasmussen.
"Data are shared within our alliance among the allies. It is a defence system to protect the populations of NATO allies," he added without mentioning Israel, which is not a NATO member.

Turkey's relations with one-time regional ally Israel plunged into deep crisis in 2010 when Israeli forces killed nine Turks in a raid on a Turkish ferry, part of an activist flotilla seeking to breach Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.

In 2011, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador and axed military ties and defence trade after Israel's refusal to apologise and compensate the flotilla victims.

Leaders of the 28-member NATO alliance gave their backing in 2010 for the Europe-wide ballistic missile shield -- which US officials say is aimed at thwarting missile threats from the Middle East, particularly Iran.

Turkey, a member of NATO since 1952, has repeatedly said the missile system targets no specific country.

"This system is not against any country," Davutoglu said. "It is entirely for defence purposes."

Tehran criticised Ankara's decision, saying it would create tension and lead to "complicated consequences."
Source: AFP

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Georgia Submits to Turkish Extortion

It's noteworthy that Turkey now seems to see itself as the champion of Islam abroad, exerting diplomatic pressure for new mosques to be constructed. This is not the first deal of this kind. Using resident Christian populations as, in effect, hostages for whom decent treatment is promised as long as a foreign state agrees to facilitate the spread of Islam elsewhere is typical of Muslim diplomacy.
On February 9, the Georgian Patriarchate released a statement condemning a recent agreement between the Georgian and Turkish governments, on the restoration of religious sites on one another's sovereign territory. The Georgian government has consented to build a new mosque in Batumi, in exchange for restoration work to be conducted on the Oshki and Ishkhani monasteries in Turkey. The administration understandably presented this decision as an achievement, but the Georgian Orthodox Church considers the deal unacceptable.

The Patriarchate is primarily taking issue with the format of the negotiations, which it says ignores Georgian legislation dictating that the Church should participate in all such talks. Discussion has been ongoing for two years, and the Georgian government has yet to invite the Patriarchate – even though the Church was strong enough to scuttle a similar agreement three years ago.

In the new deal, which has yet to be formally signed by either government, restoration work will be completed on the Ahmed mosque in Akhaltsikhe, and a new Aziz mosque will be built in Batumi, after its predecessor burnt down last century.

The patriarchate is unhappy because the mosques in Georgia will be under the "ownership" of Muslim organizations, while Georgian sites in Turkey remain under Turkish control, with some Georgian consultation. They call the deal "unfair", especially since UNESCO dictates that it is the responsibility of every state to protect the cultural heritage on its territory – therefore, Turkey should need no such deal in order to restore Georgian churches. The Patriarchate believes that such an agreement was unnecessary.

As a compromise, and to show its support for continued negotiations, the Patriarchate suggests the restoration of a small basilica-type Georgian church in Ardasheni, Turkey, using Church funds, then resuming negotiations with themselves at the table. If this is unacceptable to the Turkish government, then the construction of the Aziz mosque is also unacceptable as, according to the Patriarchate, it is a reminder of very "difficult" period in Georgian history. The Patriarchate also suggests that these negotiations, if not conducted properly, could create tension between Muslims and Christians.

Ministry of Culture, as well as MP Goka Gabashvili, responded to the statement, confirming the government's commitment to the deal, and to negotiating with the Turkish government as they have been doing for years. Both the Christian-Democrats and the Democrats also responded, supporting the patriarchate’s position and condemning state officials for ignoring the Church, and what they claim is also public opinion.

Saakashvili, meanwhile, has spoken strongly in favour of building the mosques. In a January 25 interview, he noted that there are over 200 000 Muslims in Georgia, and that those who believe the construction of the mosques is un-Georgian, "amounts to saying that those thousands of Muslims should not be living in Georgia… I cannot allow that".

It is evident today that there has been a split in opinion between the government and the Patriarch, although it is unclear on which side the population falls. Saakashvili may have taken a very risky path – and not all political, civil, and religious institutions have weighed in yet. While neither the Patriarchate nor the opposition can stop the government from building a mosque in Batumi, what is less clear is whether this deal could trigger some unpleasant developments.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Erdogan Wants to "Raise a Religious Youth"

ANKARA — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comment that his government wants to “raise a religious youth” has touched a nerve in society, fuelling debates over an alleged “hidden agenda” to Islamise secular Turkey.

“We want to raise a religious youth,” said Erdogan, himself a graduate of a clerical school and the leader of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), during a parliamentary address last week.

“Do you expect the conservative democrat AK Party to raise an atheist generation? That might be your business, your mission, but not ours. We will raise a conservative and democratic generation embracing the nation’s values and principles,” he added.

Erdogan’s remarks drew strong criticism from the staunchly secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, with its leader calling him a “religion-monger.”

“It is a sin to garner votes over religion. You are not religious but a religion-monger,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, accusing Erdogan of polarising the country by touching its faultlines.

“I’m asking the prime minister: what can I do if I don’t want my child to be raised as religious and conservative?” wrote prominent liberal commentator Hasan Cemal in Milliyet daily.

“If you are going to train a religious and conservative generation in schools, what will happen to my child?” he asked.

Columnist Mehmet Ali Birand also criticised Erdogan this week in an article titled, “The race for piety will be our end.”

“What does it mean, really, that the state raises religious youth? Is this the first step towards a religious state?” he wrote in Hurriyet Daily News.

Erdogan must explain what he meant, otherwise a dangerous storm may erupt and go as far as fights about being religious versus being godless, he argued.

Neither religious nor political uniformity can be imposed on Turkey given regional, ethnic and sectarian diversity in the country, wrote Semih Idiz in Milliyet daily on Tuesday.

He said millions of people “have subscribed to secular lifestyles” even before the republic.

Erdogan’s AKP has been in power since 2002 and won a third term with nearly 50 percent of the vote in the 2011 elections, securing 325 seats in the 550-member parliament.

But since then the influence of the military, considered as guardian of secularism, has waned.

Dozens of retired and active army officers, academics, journalists and lawyers have been put behind bars in probes into alleged plots against Erdogan’s government.

Critics accuse the government of launching the probes as a tool to silence opponents and impose authoritarianism.

Secular quarters argue Erdogan’s conservative government is also step by step imposing religion in every aspect of life, saying many restaurants already refuse to serve alcohol during Ramadan.

They also criticise recent changes to legislation under which religious school graduates will now be able to access any university branch they like, while in the past they had only access to theology schools.

Birand expressed fears that the changes would not be confined to this and would lead to censorship in television broadcasts.

The Turkish television watchdog RTUK “will restrict all kissing scenes; they will confuse pornography with explicit broadcast and all television screens will be made pious,” he added.

“Then will come religious foundations. After them, it will be municipalities. All kinds of Koran teaching courses, legal or illegal, will mushroom.”

Observers say Erdogan’s message contradicts what he had said during a recent tour of Arab Spring countries, in September.

“As Recep Tayyip Erdogan I am a Muslim but not secular. But I am a prime minister of a secular country. People have the freedom to choose whether or not to be religious in a secular regime,” he said in an interview with an Egyptian TV, published by Turkish daily Vatan.

“The constitution in Turkey defines secularism as the state’s equal distance to every religion,” he said in remarks that provoked criticism from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Turks Read on Average one Book Every 10 Years

A report recently published in Turkey revealed that the average Turk spends only six hours reading a book per year. This equates to reading one book every 10 years. By comparison, French people read an average of 7 books per year.

Source: Deutsch-Turkisch Nachrichten

Turks to Develop Missile That Could Reach London

Turkey to Develop Ballistic Missiles at Ranges of 2,500 km

A surprising decision by the Turkish, they have decided to produce a new missile following the launch of the new Iranian satellite over the weekend
Arie Egozi 5/2/2012
A rather surprising development in the region: Turkey has decided to develop surface-to-surface missiles with ranges of up to 2,500 km.

It seems that Turkey is concerned over Iranian missile ambitions. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided to begin a new Turkish development. Yücel Altınbaşak, head of the Turkish State Scientific Research Institute (TÜBİTAK) said that the “development of the missile is a realistic goal.” In internal discussions, he said that the instruction came from Prime Minister Erdoğan and was approved by the TÜBİTAK High Board of Technology.

Altınbaşak revealed that Turkey already developed a missile with a range of 500 km and a precision of 5 m supplied to the Turkish military.

TÜBİTAK initially received instructions to begin developing a ballistic missile with a range of 1,500 km. Development has begun, or will begin this year.

It is possible to discern from Altınbaşak’s words that a ballistic missile with a range of 2,500 km will be developed by 2015. Turkish sources said that Turkey might require assistance from foreign countries to achieve their goal.

Turkey is a signatory to the MTCR treaty, intended to prevent the dissemination of long-range missiles with ranges of more than 300 km. As a result, it is possible that the new missile program will result in limitations on the sale of certain technologies to Turkey.
Nevertheless, knowledge about missile construction is available throughout the world to anyone willing to pay a price for it. North Korea, China, and missile scientists from the former Soviet Union are among information sellers.

Turkey’s long-range missile project is part of its larger effort to develop capabilities in fields of advanced military systems as part of their ambition to become a leading regional power.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Greece to build anti-immigrant border fence

KASTANIES, Greece - Greece announced on Monday that it will soon begin building a 6-mile-long fence topped with razor wire on its border with Turkey to deter illegal immigrants.

Thousands of illegal immigrants cross from Turkey into Greece at this point each year, often traveling from there to other parts of Europe.

Greek Public Order Minister Christos Papoutsis went to the border village of Kantanies on Monday to announce that work on the 13-foot-tall (4-meter-tall) fence will start next month and is expected to be finished by September at a cost of more than 3 million euro ($4 million). It will stretch from Kastanies to the Greek village of Nea Vyssa, near the northeastern town of Orestiada.

"This is an opportunity for us to send a clear message ... to all the EU that Greece is fully compliant with its border commitments," Papoutsis told reporters. "Traffickers should know that this route will be closed to them. Their life is about to get much harder."

Greek debt talks drag on, banks signal progress
Greece is one of the 26 European nations in the Schengen Area, which has external border controls but not ones within the zone. Since Greece is on the southeastern edge of the area, and Turkey has not signed the Schengen Agreement, Greece is required to maintain its border controls.

During Papoutsis' visit to Kastanies, about 40 people protested nearby, saying the fence is a violation of human rights and should not be built at a time when Greece is suffering a deep financial crisis that has led to punishing austerity measures and high unemployment. About 200 riot police stood by, but no violence occurred during the demonstration.

Papoutsis said the fence will be coupled with a network of fixed night-vision cameras providing real-time footage to the new command center.

Most of Greece's 125-mile border with Turkey runs along a river known as Evros in Greece and Meric in Turkey. The new fence, which Turkey's government has not opposed, will block a short stretch of dry land between the two countries. Greece already is receiving emergency assistance at the Evros border from the EU border protection agency, Frontex.

On Monday, three men seen entering Greece at the point where the fence will be built told The Associated Press they are illegal immigrants who fled Syria's violence.

One of the men, who identified himself only as Said, 24, said the trio had been walking for seven days, and that he hopes to reach an uncle in Hungary, which also is a member of Europe's Schengen Area.
Source: CBSNews.com

Monday, 6 February 2012

The Leader of the Turkish Opposition Party Denounces the Country's Authoritarian Government

Opposition being silenced in Turkey

By Kemal Kılıçdaroglu, Published: February 6

Many in Washington have been debating whether Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) could be a model for the Arab Spring , as our neighbors in the Middle East aspire to get rid of totalitarian regimes and become true democracies. But the reality in Turkey makes clear that the AKP model does not hold.

On Nov. 9 I visited the Silivri prison where hundreds of journalists, publishers, military officers, academics and politicians are being held. Trials were opened in 2007 on charges that an ultranationalist underground organization had plotted for years to overthrow the government. Many of those indicted have been detained for years without trial. There has not been a single conviction to date. Justice is at stake — and, so far, has been flagrantly denied. At work is an insidious attack on the rule of law by Turkey’s governing party. These trials could have been an occasion for Turkey to achieve a much-needed catharsis for correcting past wrongs, but they have been turned into instruments to silence the opposition and suppress freedoms.

Among those being held are eight opposition members of parliament. Turkey’s high election board declared that these people were qualified to stand for elections, and all won seats in parliament. That they are incarcerated violates their rights under Turkish law as elected representatives of the people.

A universal norm of the rule of law is that one is innocent until proven guilty. Another is that evidence leads to the arrest of a suspect. In today’s Turkey, however, people are treated as guilty until proven innocent. One gets arrested; then authorities gather evidence to establish an infraction. Presumed guilt is the norm. Sadly, all opponents of the government are viewed as potential terrorists or plotters against the state.

The AKP is systematic and ruthless in its persecution of any opposition to its policies. Authoritarian pressure methods such as heavy tax fines and illegal videotaping and phone tapping are widely used to silence opponents. Even more disturbing is the AKP’s claim that such things are being done in the name of democratic progress. The latest government target is the primary vestige of our democracy, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which I lead.

While at the Silivri center in November, I likened the conditions to those of a concentration camp and said that prosecutors and judges were not meting out justice and did not deserve to be called upholders of justice. This month, I learned that the prosecutor’s office had opened an inquiry into my comments, contending that I was “seeking to influence a fair trial” and “insulting public officials.” Never mind that not a day passes without some comment by government officials, such as the prime minister, on the process of law and justice. Clearly, an effort to single out the leader of the main opposition party ratchets up the pressures on freedom of expression. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court penalized our party when we asked for the chief justice to recuse himself from particular cases. Our request was based on ill will, we were told when the $3,000 fine was levied, and the CHP was unnecessarily preoccupying the court’s time.

It all boils down to this: In today’s Turkey, when one criticizes the justice system, one is prosecuted. When one appeals to the courts, one is penalized.

But here is why I stand behind my words: I have the right and duty to be critical of all that is wrong in my country. It is my inalienable right to point to injustices and to ask for justice. If the courts are not performing their duty, one can, and should, stand up and say so. I do not ask for forgiveness. Rather, I want my own immunity as a member of parliament to be lifted so that I can be tried in a court for all to witness the outcome. Righteousness is the ultimate immunity.

Turkey today is a country where people live in fear and are divided politically, economically and socially. Our democracy is regressing in terms of the separation of powers, basic human rights and freedoms and social development and justice. Citizens worry deeply about their future. These points are, sadly, reflected in most major international indexes, such as Human Rights Watch, which rank Turkey quite low in terms of human rights, democracy, freedoms and equality.

Our party stands for democracy, secularism, the rule of law, human rights and freedoms. We envision a progressive Turkey where citizens, regardless of their faith, ethnicity, gender or political view, are equal before the law. Building political, economic and cultural walls between people is not consistent with democracy or social justice. Only a nation at peace with itself can be a model for its neighbors. A nation plagued by multiple forms of division and polarization is doomed to failure.

Tactics such as oppression, preying on fear and restricting freedoms can help sustain a government’s rule for only so long. Never in history has a government succeeded in ruling permanently through authoritarian measures. Oppression does not endure; righteousness does. Turkey will be no exception.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Turkey and Hamas Grow Close

By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, Associated Press – 17 hours ago

ISTANBUL (AP) — Ties between Turkey, NATO's biggest Muslim member, and Hamas, the Islamic militant group that says Israel should not exist, are blossoming.

Last month, the Hamas premier visited the Turkish prime minister at his Istanbul home. Today, Turkish and Palestinian flags fly side by side at a building site in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

It seems like bad news for Israel, whose alliance with Turkey collapsed over a deadly raid by Israeli troops on a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza in 2010. Yet some pundits believe that Turkey, a rising power that has worked with Washington on Iraq and other regional problems, could seek to nudge Hamas away from the principle of armed struggle or reduce the influence of Iranian sponsors.

They acknowledge closer engagement with Hamas could disrupt Turkish diplomacy if there is another Gaza war, or a return to rocket attacks and bombings of Israeli targets. Israel wonders if Turkey will veer closer to the Hamas line, rather than the other way around.

Another Hamas sponsor, Syria, is struggling to quell an uprising and has broken with Turkey, a former ally that says President Bashar Assad should resign. Turkey has said there are no plans for Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas political leader based in Damascus, to move to Turkey, though some Turkish analysts think the government phrasing did not close the door on the idea of a Hamas office in Turkey.

"Turkey would like to have more influence over Hamas as part of its general program of increasing influence in the region. Certainly, the decline of Syria has made that relationship more attractive to Hamas," Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at St. Lawrence University in the United States, wrote in an email.

However, he noted: "Hamas would have to be very isolated indeed for Turkey to be able to push it in directions that it doesn't want to go. Given its ability to get aid from private donors in the Gulf and from Iran, that type of desperation seems unlikely in the short term."

As a possible patron or model for Hamas, Turkey seemingly has a lot to share, though its ambitions for influence elsewhere in the fast-changing region have sometimes fallen short of expectations. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a pious Muslim at the helm of a secular political system that he has dominated with robust election wins and a strong economic record.

He won Palestinian praise in blockaded Gaza with harsh criticism of Israel. While Turkish officials back calls for democratic reform in response to popular uprisings, Iran remains supportive of Syria and is under U.N. sanctions because of its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Iran says the program is peaceful, an assertion that Turkey once backed enthusiastically. Now there are strains, partly because Turkey agreed to host a NATO defense shield radar that would warn of any Iranian ballistic missiles. Turkey and Iran are also wary of each other's involvement in Iraq, a stew of sectarian tension.

"On the diplomatic front, Turkey and Iran enjoy cordial relations. Turkey buys oil and gas from Iran," said Nihat Ali Ozcan, a political analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey in Ankara. "However, there are thorny issues under the table."
Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, noted that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey made "very friendly statements" toward Hamas and, in his view, absolved the group of responsibility for attacks on Israeli civilians.

"If Turkey's approach would have the effect of moderating Hamas, then we could understand the strategy," Palmor said. "But in fact, the opposite is true. Hamas in all its public statements continues to toe its ultra-extremist line, and the Turkish government is the one that distanced itself from Israel. So it looks like Hamas is influencing the Turkish government, and not vice versa."

The relationship between Turkey and Hamas came to prominence in 2006, when a delegation led by Mashaal visited Ankara after their victory in Palestinian elections.

More recently, Turkey encouraged Hamas to reconcile with rival faction Fatah in what could be a key step toward any accord between Israel and the Palestinians. Last year, Turkey hosted a meeting between the two factions, which have tentatively agreed to hold elections next year.

In October, Turkey welcomed 11 Palestinian prisoners who were among hundreds freed in an exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Selcuk Unal, a spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, said the gesture was a "contribution to the bigger picture" between Israel and the Palestinians and was done at the written request of the Palestinians, and with Israel's knowledge.

Gulnur Aybet, a senior lecturer in international relations at the University of Kent at Canterbury in Britain, said Turkey appeared to be trying to use its "soft power to persuade Hamas to act more like a political party," which could include the downplaying or abandonment of the tenet that Israel should not exist. She acknowledged that some factions within Hamas would strongly resist such a move.

Some Israeli media have reported that Turkish officials plan to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas. Turkey denies it. It is, however, funding the construction of a hospital in Gaza and helping in efforts to establish an industrial zone there and improve infrastructure for businesses, including textiles and furniture.

On Jan. 1, the Hamas premier, Ismail Haniyeh, visited Erdogan on his first trip outside Gaza since the Islamist group seized control of the territory in a 2007 fight with Fatah. He said in Turkey: "We have reached consensus to work for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip."

Henri Barkey, a Turkey analyst at Lehigh University in the United States, doubted there was an "infusion of money into Hamas coffers" from Turkey, but said aid initiatives were a means of indirect funding.

"Turkish support, on the one hand, could be moderating," Barkey said. Or, he said, "the very fact that they have Turkish support may convince them that they don't have to change their line. I don't have the answer to that question. I don't think anyone has the answer to that question. I don't think even Hamas has the answer to that question."

Associated Press writers Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara, Turkey and Amy Teibel in Jerusalem contributed.