Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly defended Hamas on Monday, claiming that more than 1,000 members of the terrorist group from Gaza are being treated at hospitals in his NATO nation. 

At a joint press conference in Ankara, Turkey, Erdogan took issue with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis having categorized Hamas as a “terrorist organization.” 

“If you call Hamas a ‘terrorist organization,’ this would sadden us,” Erdogan said, according to Reuters. 

“We don’t deem Hamas a terrorist organization,” he reportedly said. “More than 1,000 members of Hamas are under treatment in hospitals across our country.” 

The press conference followed a two-hour face-to-face summit with the Greek prime minister. 

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Erdogan visits Iraq

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization during a recent press conference in Ankara. (SAFIN HAMID/AFP via Getty Images)

“I do not see Hamas as a terror group,” Erdogan said at the press conference, according to The Associated Press. “I see it as a group of people trying to protect their own land.”

Greece, like most Western states, considers Hamas a terrorist organization, but Erdogan repeated his reference to the group as a “resistance organization.” The leaders were meeting for the fourth time in the past year in a bid to strengthen a normalization process.

A Turkish official who spoke on condition of anonymity later told Reuters that Erdogan meant to refer to Palestinians from Hamas-controlled Gaza, not members of Hamas. 

“President Erdogan misspoke, he meant 1,000 Gazans are under treatment, not Hamas members,” the official reportedly said. 

Erdogan and Greek prime minister shake hands

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, left, shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a press conference on May 13, 2024, in Ankara, Turkey. (Yavuz Ozden/ dia images via Getty Images)

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In November, the Turkish government said it planned to evacuate some wounded or sick Gazans, mostly cancer patients, as well as Turkish nationals, Turkish Cypriots and their relatives. 

Turkey and Greece, which are NATO members, have been at odds for decades over a series of issues, including territorial claims in the Aegean Sea and drilling rights in the Mediterranean, and have come to the brink of war three times in the last half-century. A dispute over energy exploration rights in 2020 led to the two countries’ warships facing off in the Mediterranean.

Greek and Turkish leaders hold joint press conference

Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, right, makes statements with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after their meeting at Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece, on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas, File)

They agreed last December to put their disputes aside and focus on areas where they can find consensus. The list of items on the so-called positive agenda includes trade, energy, education and cultural ties. Since that summit in Athens, the regional rivals have maintained regular high-level contacts to promote fence-mending initiatives, such as allowing Turkish citizens to visit 10 Greek islands without cumbersome visa procedures.

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Stressing the ties between the two countries, Mitsotakis said the deal allowed Turks and Greeks to “get to know each other, which is an important step.” Similarly, Erdogan referred to the Turkish-Muslim minority in Greece’s Thrace region as a “friendship bridge between the two communities.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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