Qatar reconsiders mediator role between Hamas and Israel

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Qatar’s prime minister has said the Gulf state is re-evaluating its role mediating between Israel and Hamas to secure a ceasefire and the release of hostages held in Gaza, saying Doha’s efforts were being undermined by politicians with “narrow interests”.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said he “lamented the political exploitation” of Doha’s diplomacy by some politicians who were “marketing their electoral campaigns through the defamation of Qatar’s role”.

Sheikh Mohammed’s comments late on Wednesday came after US Democratic congressman Steny Hoyer said Hamas was using Qatar to exact greater concessions from Israel, adding that if Doha failed to apply pressure on the Palestinian militant group the “United States must re-evaluate its relationship with Qatar”.

Qatar, along with the US and Egypt, has played a critical role in mediating between Israel and Hamas since the Islamist movement’s October 7 attack on Israel killed about 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials, and triggered the war in Gaza.

In November, Doha helped broker an agreement that led to a week-long pause in the conflict during which more than 100 of about 250 hostages seized in the attack were released. In return Israel freed 240 Palestinian women and children held in its prisons, and allowed more aid into besieged Gaza, where more than 33,000 people have been killed, according to Palestinian officials.

Months of subsequent diplomatic efforts to secure a more extended hostage-prisoner deal to halt the war and secure the release of the remaining captives have struggled due to wide gaps between Israel and Hamas.

This includes Hamas’s demand that any arrangement ends with a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government rejects.

Egypt, the only country other than Israel to border Gaza, has traditionally played an important role in negotiations between Israel and Hamas, as well as other Palestinian factions.

Since October 7, Cairo has also played a critical role in supporting the delivery of aid into Gaza.

But the war has exacerbated deep economic and social pressures in the Arab state of 100mn people, leading donors and allies, including the IMF, the World Bank, the EU and the United Arab Emirates, to provide a $55bn bailout this year to bolster the economy.

Gas-rich Qatar, one of the US’s most important Arab allies, has a unique position as it has hosted Hamas’s political office since 2012.

Doha’s diplomacy has drawn praise from the Biden administration — which designated it a major non-Nato ally two years ago — as well as other western governments. But its relationship with Hamas has faced scrutiny and criticism from some American conservatives, many with ties to Israel or American Jewish causes, as well as from Israeli politicians, including Netanyahu.

Over the past decade, Qatar has poured hundreds of millions of dollars of aid into Gaza, which Hamas has controlled since 2007, helping pay public servant salaries and supporting poor families.

Qatari officials say the state does not sponsor or fund Hamas, but agreed to host the political office after the US requested it to open a channel with the group more than a decade ago. They added that its aid to the blockaded strip was co-ordinated through UN agencies and Israel with the Israeli government having “complete oversight” over the assistance.

The most recent round of hostage talks broke down, with Israel and the US blaming Hamas for rejecting the latest proposal.

Hopes of securing a breakthrough have been further dashed by the rising tensions between Israel and Iran, after the Islamic republic launched a barrage of more than 300 drones and missiles at the Jewish state over the weekend. Tehran said the attack was in retaliation for a suspected Israeli air strike on its consular building in Damascus, which killed seven Revolutionary Guards.

Sheikh Mohammed said on Wednesday that “negotiations for a ceasefire and the release of prisoners and hostages are at a sensitive and critical stage”, adding that Doha had “been working since day one of the war to stop it and release the hostages”.

He said Qatar was committed to its role “on humanitarian grounds, but noted that there are limitations to this role and the impact it can make”.

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