President Isaac Herzog on Friday met Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the United Nations climate summit COP28, hosted in the United Arab Emirates, as a ceasefire brokered by Doha lapsed after seven days and fighting between Israel and Hamas resumed in the Gaza Strip.
A photo, the first ever to show Qatar’s emir with any Israeli official, showed the two leaders shaking hands, while they held a long conversation. A statement on the meeting by the president’s office did not offer details on the interaction.
Israel and Qatar do not have diplomatic relations but have maintained strong back channels with the Gulf nation, the key mediator with the Hamas terror group — particularly regarding the week-long truce that saw Hamas release 105 civilian hostages, including 81 Israelis, 23 Thai nationals and one Filipino. It is believed that 137 hostages remain in Gaza.
In return, Israel released 210 Palestinian security prisoners, all women and minors.
Qatar is a crucial communications channel with Hamas, as it hosts the terror group’s political bureau and is the primary residence of its self-exiled leader Ismail Haniyeh, as well as its former leader Khaled Mashaal. The country is one of Hamas’s main backers, transferring hundreds of millions of dollars to the terror group annually.
Mossad chief David Barnea was in Doha earlier in the week following a visit by Qatari officials to Israel.
Multiple media reports Friday indicated that despite the resumption of hostilities talks were ongoing to restore the truce and release more hostages. Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said it “expresses its deep regret at the resumption of the Israeli aggression against Gaza,” adding that the renewed offensive “complicates” the diplomatic efforts.
Israel said it restarted combat operations after Hamas broke the terms of the truce by firing rockets into Israel and failing to provide a list of hostages it intended to release.
Herzog also met other world leaders, including Britain’s King Charles III, on the sidelines of the conference in Dubai urging them to step up efforts to secure the release of the hostages.
Herzog’s office said the president “emphasized the humanitarian duty to release the hostages held by the terror group Hamas,” adding that he urged the monarch to use his international standing to work for their freedom.
The president then met with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who “emphatically condemned the terror activities of Hamas,” according to a statement by Herzog’s office.
Herzog also emphasized to Modi the importance of returning the hostages held in Gaza.
Herzog is at COP28 for sideline talks with officials on efforts to free Israeli hostages in Gaza.
On Thursday, he met his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as part of the diplomatic push.
Herzog underlined “the necessity to act in any way possible to free the Israeli hostages held captive by the murderous terrorist organization Hamas,” a statement from his office said.
He “appealed” to his Emirati counterpart “to employ his full political weight to promote and speed up the return home of the hostages,” the statement said.
More than 140 heads of state and government are due to address COP28 on Friday and Saturday, including Herzog.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had also been scheduled to speak at COP28 but his office said he was no longer going and his foreign minister would take his place.
War resumed following a seven-day pause Friday after Hamas failed to provide a list of hostages it intended to release by 7 a.m., and fired rockets at Israel, violating the temporary ceasefire that provided for the release of 105 civilians in exchange for 210 Palestinian prisoners.
Israel launched its offensive aimed at eliminating Hamas after the terror group’s devastating onslaught on October 7 in which 3,000 terrorists infiltrated southern Israeli communities, massacring 1,200 people — mostly civilians murdered in their homes and at a music festival — and taking some 240 hostages.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has said that more than 15,000 people have been killed since October 7, most of them civilians. The numbers cannot be verified, and are believed to include Hamas terrorists as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.
The war has cast a shadow over the UN climate talks in Dubai with activists demanding a permanent ceasefire and an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip enacted by both Israel and Egypt.
The UAE is one of the few Arab states to recognize Israel, having established ties in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords. While it has been at pains to show solidarity with Palestinians, it has not recalled its ambassador from Israel like some other Arab and Muslim nations.
It has dispatched a 150-bed field hospital to Gaza and has pledged to take in 2,000 Palestinians, including 1,000 children and an equal number of cancer patients, for treatment.