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U.S. Secretary of State Blinken holds challenging talks with Turkish officials on Israel-Gaza conflict

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United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken embarked on a demanding Middle East tour, with the primary goal of mediating the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict and reducing regional tensions. During his tour, he engaged in extensive discussions with various leaders in the Middle East.

Secretary Blinken’s visit to Turkey was a critical part of his mission to ease the Israel-Hamas conflict. In Ankara, he met with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan for a lengthy two-and-a-half-hour session. However, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declined to attend the meeting, signaling a challenging diplomatic landscape.

Tensions were palpable during the meeting, as the Turkish government appeared skeptical of Blinken’s intentions. Tamer Qarmoot, a professor in public policy at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, remarked that Blinken’s primary mission was to extend the timeframe for Israel, a perspective that the Turkish officials were well aware of, leading to a frosty reception.

Blinken’s visit to Turkey followed strained discussions with Arab leaders in Iraq, Palestine, and Jordan over the weekend. Arab and Muslim leaders expressed their frustration with the U.S.’s unwavering support for Israel, which had been conducting a month-long assault on Gaza, resulting in nearly 10,000 casualties, a significant portion of whom were children.

While Washington supported a “humanitarian pause” in the hostilities, it did not join the international chorus calling for a complete ceasefire. Blinken’s mission, his second visit to the region since the outbreak of the war, faced limited support. Israel rejected the U.S. call for a pause in the fighting, while Arab and Muslim nations insisted on an immediate ceasefire to mitigate the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar, reporting from Ankara, revealed that Blinken and Fidan struggled to find common ground. The U.S. urged Turkish officials to exert pressure on Hamas for the release of captives. However, Turkey insisted on a mutual release of captives, with both Hamas and Israel participating.

Furthermore, Turkey advocated for an unconditional ceasefire, emphasizing the need for an international mechanism to monitor the truce, with Ankara as the guarantor. Blinken, on the other hand, repeatedly used the term “humanitarian pause,” which failed to align with the Turkish position.

Despite being a strategic ally, Turkey has been one of the most vocal critics of Israel since the start of the conflict, accusing Israel of acting as a “war criminal” and committing a “massacre.” In a significant move, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv on Saturday, with President Erdogan publicly expressing his frustration with Israeli leadership.

Erdogan’s criticism extended to Western powers supporting Israel, as he compared their response to the Gaza crisis to their reaction to the Ukraine-Russia conflict, emphasizing their apparent double standards.

Public anger was evident during Blinken’s visit to Turkey. President Erdogan’s decision to travel to northeastern Turkey, leaving Blinken to meet with the foreign minister, was seen as a diplomatic snub. Demonstrators rallied outside an airbase hosting U.S. troops in southeastern Turkey hours before Blinken’s arrival, with local police dispersing the protests with tear gas and water canisters. The demonstrators aimed to exert significant pressure on both the U.S. and Turkish governments to bring an end to the conflict in Gaza.

The strained relationship between the U.S. and Turkey extends beyond the Israel-Hamas conflict, with disagreements on various foreign policy issues, including NATO and Iraq. Ongoing tensions include the delayed approval from the U.S. Congress for a $20 billion deal involving the sale of 40 F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. Additionally, Washington’s support for Sweden’s NATO bid and increased sanctions against Turkish entities linked to Russia have added to the diplomatic strains.

Turkey also expressed dissatisfaction with the U.S.’s support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, whom Ankara views as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group banned by Turkey, the U.S., and the European Union.

As the Israel-Gaza conflict continues, President Erdogan has positioned Turkey as a mediator in efforts to halt the violence and facilitate the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Erdogan has emphasized the importance of establishing a humanitarian ceasefire swiftly, indicating that Turkey is working behind the scenes with regional partners to ensure uninterrupted humanitarian aid to Gaza. Furthermore, Turkey is actively pursuing mechanisms to guarantee the safety of all parties, regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds, and continues to lay the groundwork for an international peace conference.

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