Qatar has deported Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal after hosting him for the past three years, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
The move, first reported by a Turkish newspaper on Sunday, was swiftly denied by an official from the Islamist group.
According to a report in left-wing Turkish newspaper Aydınlık, Qatar has faced significant pressure from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to deport Mashaal, amid a diplomatic reconciliation process currently underway between the small Gulf state and the Arab world.
According to CNN, citing a Hamas-run news agency, Mashaal and other Muslim Brotherhood members were most likely to head to Turkey.
On December 20, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdul Rahman, a special envoy of Qatari leader Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. The meeting apparently ended the longstanding enmity between the two states over Qatar’s support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a written message Tuesday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry congratulated Qatar for its decision to deport Mashaal.
“The Foreign Ministry, led by minister Avigdor Liberman, has advanced various moves to cause Qatar to carry out this step and stop aiding Hamas, directly and indirectly. To this end, minister Liberman and the ministry’s professional staff have acted in overt and covert tracks with Qatar and other states. We expect the Turkish government to now follow suit,” the Foreign Ministry’s message read.
But a Hamas official, Izzat al-Rishq, denied reports that Mashaal was in fact deported.
“There is no truth to reports by certain media concerning the departure of Khaled Mashaal from Qatar,” Rishq wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday afternoon.
According to Arab media reports, the deal between Egypt and Qatar included the closing of anti-Sissi Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr on December 22; the extradition of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members from Qatar to Egypt; and a halt to Qatar’s funding of the Muslim Brotherhood.
If true, Mashaal’s departure from Qatar would mark the end of Hamas’s political presence in the Arab world. Expelled from Jordan in August 1999 and choosing to break ties with the Assad regime in Syria in January 2012, Mashaal has struggled — and failed — to foster political patrons in the tumultuous Arab Middle East.
Appearing before a gathering of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party in Konya December 27, Mashaal congratulated the people of Turkey “for having [Prime Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan” as heads of state, adding that “a strong Turkey means a strong Palestine … Inshallah, God is with us and with you on the road to victory.”
Turkey already hosts militant Hamas leader Saleh Al-Arouri, whom Israel accuses of directing terror attacks against its citizens.
Ricky Ben David and Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.