Hamas leaders said looking at leaving Qatar amid growing pressure in hostage talks

WSJ says terror group contacted Oman and another regional state about leaders moving there; report comes after Qatari PM said Doha reconsidering its hostage talks mediator role

File - Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (R), in a meeting with Hamas politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) and official Khaled Mashal in Doha, Qatar, October 17, 2016 (Qatar government handout)
File - Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (R), in a meeting with Hamas politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) and official Khaled Mashal in Doha, Qatar, October 17, 2016 (Qatar government handout)

Hamas’s political chiefs are exploring moving their base of operations out of Qatar, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday, as the Gulf state faces increasing pressure over its influence with the terror group in indirect hostage-for-truce negotiations with Israel.

Citing Arab officials, the report said Hamas has recently contacted two regional countries about having its leaders live there, one of which is Oman.

The outlet noted that if Hamas leaders were to leave Doha, it could be more difficult for negotiations to be held with the terror group.

“The talks have already stalled again with barely any signs or prospects for them to resume any time soon, and distrust is rising between Hamas and the negotiators,” an Arab mediator was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Another Arab mediator warned that “the possibility of the talks being upended entirely is very real,” with the report saying Hamas leaders have faced threats of expulsion if they don’t agree to a hostage deal.

Qatar, with the United States and Egypt, has been engaged in months of behind-the-scenes talks aiming to secure a truce in Gaza — where Israel and the Hamas terror group have been fighting for more than six months after the devastating October 7 terror assault — as well as the release of the 133 Israeli hostages still held by Gazan terror groups.

Chairs are set for missing members of the Bibas family who are held hostage in Gaza at a symbolic Passover Seder table on April 11, 2024, at the communal dining hall at Kibbutz Nir Oz in southern Israel, where a quarter of all residents were killed or captured by Hamas on October 7, 2023. (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

Doha, which has hosted Hamas’s politburo leaders, including Ismail Haniyeh, since 2012, has rebuffed frequent criticism of its mediation from Israel, including by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

However, Qatar’s prime minister said Wednesday that the nation is reassessing its role as a mediator between Israel and Hamas amid “abuse.”

“Qatar is in the process of a complete re-evaluation of its role,” Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani told a Doha news conference.

“There is exploitation and abuse of the Qatari role,” he said, adding that Qatar had been the victim of “point-scoring” by “politicians who are trying to conduct election campaigns by slighting the State of Qatar.” He did not mention any politicians by name.

Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani speaks to the press at the US State Department in Washington, DC, on March 5, 2024. (Drew ANGERER / AFP)

Earlier Wednesday, al-Thani said negotiations for an agreement between Israel and Hamas had stalled.

“We are going through a sensitive stage with some stalling, and we are trying as much as possible to address this stalling,” the Qatari premier said.

In a rare public comment on Friday, CIA chief Bill Burns placed the blame on Hamas for the deadlocked negotiations, saying the terror group had rejected the latest proposal.

“It was a deep disappointment to get a negative reaction from Hamas,” Burns said at an event at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

“Right now, it’s that negative reaction that really is standing in the way of innocent civilians in Gaza getting humanitarian relief that they so desperately need,” he said.

“And it breaks your heart because you can see in very human terms what’s at stake here as well,” he said.

The recent proposal was widely reported to offer a temporary ceasefire of at least several weeks in return for the release of dozens of hostages. Israel would also set free hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners held in its jails alongside enabling a boost in aid to Gaza, where a humanitarian crisis has ballooned amid the fighting.

However, the aftermath of an Israeli strike last week killing three of Haniyeh’s children and four of his grandchildren was said to have contributed to the ongoing deadlock in negotiations, a senior Arab official told The Times of Israel.

The destruction in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 19, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

In December, al-Thani told Mossad chief David Barnea that he was not inclined to accede to Israeli requests to assist in the reconstruction of Gaza, given Jerusalem’s treatment of Qatar throughout the war.

He told Barnea that Doha wanted to see a significant shift in Israel’s behavior vis-à-vis Qatar, pointing to several instances during the war in which he claimed Doha-funded infrastructure in Gaza had been wrongfully targeted.

He also raised concerns over an assertion made several times by Netanyahu that Qatar has failed to sufficiently pressure Hamas in the hostage talks — a claim that Doha rejects, and which has also been repeated by some US lawmakers.

Israel has long had a complex relationship with Qatar, which became one of the first Arab countries to establish trade ties with Jerusalem in 1996.

Although those relations were severed over two decades later amid the 2009 Gaza war, Israel has urged Qatar over the years to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to finance Gaza humanitarian projects along with the salaries of the Strip’s civil servants.

Palestinians in Gaza City receive their financial aid as part of aid allocated by Qatar at a branch of the post office, November 27, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

Critics say the Qatari funds helped strengthen Hamas at the expense of the more moderate Palestinian Authority and allowed Doha to gain a foothold in the enclave by bolstering an Islamist group opposed by Israel’s Arab allies.

The war between Israel and Hamas began with the shock Hamas assault on October 7, when thousands of terrorists invaded southern Israel, murdering some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas and end the terror group’s rule of Gaza, launching an aerial assault and ground offensive to achieve its goals and return the hostages.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry has placed the Palestinian death toll since October 7 at over 34,000 people, although this figure cannot be independently verified and does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

Israel says it has killed some 13,000 Hamas gunmen in battle, as well as some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Two hundred and sixty IDF soldiers have been killed since Israel launched the ground offensive in Gaza.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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