Hamas is not a terrorist organization, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared in an interview Wednesday night with PBS's Charlie Rose. Saying it was is to "disrespect" the Palestinian people.
"Let me give you a very clear message, I don't see Hamas as a terror organization. Hamas is a political party -- it emerged as a political party that appeared as a political party," Erdogan told Rose. "It is a resistance movement trying to protect its country under occupation."
The United States and European Union each has designated Hamas as a terrorist group.
The Turkish Prime Minister said he was "very pleased" with the unity agreement Hamas signed with Fatah, and criticized Israel's policies towards the Palestinians. "How can you put all Palestine and Gaza in [something] like an open prison? Of course they will rebel [against this]."
One year after the Mavi Marmara incident in which nine activists were killed while passengers tried to create a violent confrontation with Israel, Erdogan said that he is still waiting for three things from Israel: "Apology, compensation, and lifting of the embargo on Gaza."
Erdogan maintains a close relationship with the Hamas-tied group IHH, the Turkish organization that was behind last year's deadly flotilla raid. Erdogan and his AKP party supported IHH with preparations for last year's flotilla as well as provided the group with political and propaganda support.
He also defended Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, calling Assad "a good friend of mine" and saying it is still too early to call for his ouster. More than 700 protestors against Assad's authoritarian regime have been killed by Syrian government forces in recent weeks. The European Union is considering sanctions against Syria and Assad.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of 36 members of Congress wrote a letter to Erdogan requesting that he prevent Freedom Flotilla II from sailing to Gaza in June, fearing a repeat of last year's violence.
"We write today to express our serious concern over reports that the so-called Free Gaza Movement and the IHH are planning to send another flotilla to Gaza in the coming weeks to provoke a confrontation with Israel. As members of the United States House of Representatives we ask you to help discourage these efforts and work with the Israeli government in a productive way as it continues to allow legitimate aid, but not weapons, to enter Gaza," the letter reads.