Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya hailed on Monday the “martyrs” killed when Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish vessel in 2010 trying to break the blockade of the Palestinian enclave.
Mr. Haniya, on his first trip abroad since Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007, toured the Mavi Marmara, part of a flotilla attacked by Israeli troops in international waters in a raid that left nine Turkish activists dead.
The May 2010 incident led a furious Turkey to downgrade relations with Israel, a one-time ally, and Ankara is seeking an apology and compensation for the victims before it restores full ties.
“Your martyrs are our martyrs, your blood is our blood, your wounds are our wounds,” Mr. Haniya told hundreds of supporters of the Islamic aid group which had dispatched the ship to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.
“Israel, the invader: you may have stopped the Mavi Marmara from reaching Gaza, but Gaza is now meeting the Mavi Marmara,” he said in an address to the supporters gathered by the vessel docked in Istanbul's port.
The demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and raised slogans such as “Welcome to Hamas” and “the resistance continues”.
Mr. Haniya, who also met relatives of the victims of the raid, thanked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his support for the Palestinian cause.
On Sunday, Mr. Haniya met Mr. Erdogan, who has long wished to visit the Gaza Strip blockaded by Israel.
Israel has vigorously defended its right to maintain a blockade on Gaza, which it says is necessary to prevent weapons from entering the impoverished coastal territory.
Since 2007, the Palestinian territories have been politically divided into two separate territories, with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas's Fatah largely ruling the West Bank and Hamas governing Gaza.
Turkey has sought to mediate in efforts to reconcile between Mr. Abbas's Fatah faction and Hamas, despite Israeli ire over its contacts with the Islamist movement.
Mr. Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government insists that peace cannot be achieved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if Hamas is excluded from the process.
Mr. Erdogan has rejected the “terrorist label” for the Islamist group, calling its members “resistance fighters who are struggling to defend their land”.
Mr. Haniya's visit comes after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held talks in Turkey in December.