U.S. envoy expected in Turkey next week, no plans to meet Hamas .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;} .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;} The new U.S. envoy to the Middle East, former senator George Mitchell, is expected to visit Turkey next week as part of a regional tour, the Anatolian Agency reported Sunday citing Turkey's foreign minister.

"I held a telephone conversation with new U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday (Saturday) and she told me that she was sending Mitchell to the region and thought it important that he met me," Ali Babacan told reporters in Ankara.
He added he was sure the two sides would find a suitable date next week for Mitchell’s visit.
Babacan was speaking before his departure for Brussels to attend a meeting of foreign ministers from European Union countries, the Palestinian territories, Egypt and Jordan to study ways to get Arab nations behind new Middle East peace moves following the Gaza ceasefire.
Turkey, one of the few Muslim allies of Israel, has been strongly critical of the Jewish states operation in Gaza, where more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed and some 5,300 others wounded.
At the same time, Ankara also took an active role in mediation efforts led by Egypt to convince the Islamist movement Hamas, which controls Gaza, to agree to a ceasefire.
U.S President Obama has taken the Middle East by surprise with the speed of his diplomatic activism. Western, Arab and Israeli diplomats said his envoy, plans to meet leaders in Egypt, Israel, the occupied West Bank and Jordan, but they ruled out direct contacts with Hamas Islamists who rule the Gaza Strip, Reuters earlier reported.

A Western diplomat said Mitchell was likely to go to Saudi Arabia but said Syria was not now on his schedule.

The trip is expected to last roughly a week and will likely include a stop in Saudi Arabia but not Syria, Reuters quoted one diplomat as saying.

Israel's refusal to fully lift its blockade of the coastal enclave following its devastating 22-day offensive, which killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, has thrown into doubt the future of the ceasefire and post-war reconstruction.

A Palestinian official, who is close to the truce talks taking place in Cairo, said both Israel and Hamas would hold their fire as long as Egyptian mediation continued.

But little tangible progress has been made thus far into turning the fragile ceasefire into something more lasting, and diplomats said time was running out. A February 10 Israeli election appears likely to bring to power the right-wing Likud party, which is critical of U.S.-backed peace moves.

Israel is determined to deny Hamas any political gains from the conflict and believes its restrictions at the border crossings will give it leverage in talks to free Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants in a 2006 raid.

Hamas, meanwhile, has cemented its hold on the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million residents, casting doubt on assertions by Israeli leaders that the group has been severely weakened during the 22-day offensive.

HAMAS VOWS TO ARM MILITANTS A senior Hamas official said the movement would continue to arm its militants in the war-battered Gaza Strip as well as on the West Bank, AFP reported on Sunday.
"We never failed to get arms into Gaza even during the (Israeli) war and under the bombardment," the Hamas representative in Beirut, Ossama Hamdan, told a rally in the Lebanese capital.
"We have the right to hold weapons. We will continue to get arms into Gaza and the West Bank ... Nobody should think that we will surrender to any measures," he said.
"Warplanes, aircraft carriers and satellite technology will not be able to monitor the entry of weapons through Gaza’s tunnels," Hamdan said.
"Things might get difficult, but we will do whatever it takes to continue our resistance against Israel."
Israel has signed an agreement with the United States to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons.
Under the agreement, the United States will reportedly provide "logistical and technical assistance and... train and equip regional security forces in counter-smuggling tactics."
Despite Western backing, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas's rival, has been prevented by Israel from bringing cash into Gaza that would allow his Palestinian Authority to pay its workers and support those in need.
Israel said it halted the fighting in the Gaza Strip after securing commitments from the United States, European powers and Egypt to crack down on Hamas arms smuggling.
Israel believes its air strikes destroyed at least 80 percent of the smuggling tunnels under Gaza's border with Egypt. They have been used by Hamas and ordinary Palestinians to bring in arms and commercial goods, bypassing Israel's blockade.
Senior Israeli defense official Amos Gilad said his government was more concerned about regulating the items being smuggled into Gaza than destroying the tunnels themselves.