Hamas sources deny Egypt, Qatar threatened to arrest leaders if hostage deal not okayed

Saudi state media cites terror group figures as saying mediator countries did not say they would detain chiefs, but make no mention of other reported potential sanctions

Ismail Haniyeh, the Qatar-based leader of Hamas, during a visit in Tehran, May 22, 2024. (Iranian Supreme Leader's Website / AFP)
Ismail Haniyeh, the Qatar-based leader of Hamas, during a visit in Tehran, May 22, 2024. (Iranian Supreme Leader's Website / AFP)

Egypt and Qatar did not threaten to arrest Hamas leaders if they did not accept the latest hostage deal proposal, Hamas sources tell the state-owned Saudi Al Arabiya outlet in a Sunday report.

The Hamas sources rejected a Wall Street Journal report from Friday that claimed the two mediator countries turned up the pressure on Hamas’s leadership in Doha to sign a deal presented by the White House for a truce in Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages held there.

According to the Journal, which cited unnamed officials familiar with the negotiations, the two countries threatened the terror group’s leaders with sanctions, including the freezing of their assets, expulsion from the Qatari capital, and arrests. This was reportedly at the prodding of the Biden administration.

The Al Arabiya report only mentions the threat of arrest and does not address the claims of warnings of other potential sanctions.

The Gaza-based terror group has signaled that it will reject the deal.

War erupted on October 7 when Hamas led a massive attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The 3,000 attackers who burst through the boundary with the Gaza Strip also abducted 251 people who were taken as hostages to the Palestinian enclave.

Israel responded with a military offensive to destroy Hamas and free the hostages.

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Middle East, from the State Dining Room of the White House, May 31, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Biden laid out the latest Israeli proposal in a May 31 speech at the White House that reportedly took Israel by surprise. The offer envisions three phases of negotiations — which have faltered since April — beginning with a six-week truce during which the remaining living female, elderly, and sick hostages would be released.

In a call last Monday with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Biden urged Qatar “to use all appropriate measures to secure Hamas’s acceptance of the deal,” according to a White House readout. On Thursday, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the Biden administration was “confident” that Qatar was exerting as much pressure as possible.

Disagreement between Israel and Hamas about the deal has hinged on its stipulation of a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Biden’s speech in two statements last week reiterating that Israel was committed to dismantling Hamas and would not commit to a permanent ceasefire. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Wednesday that Israel would negotiate with Hamas only “under fire.”

Hamas, which initially said it “positively views” the proposal, has since signaled it would likely reject the deal.

“There is a gap between what is in the paper and Biden’s statements,” the terror group said on Wednesday, adding that the alleged discrepancy had led to “confusion and controversy.”

The Wall Street Journal, which reviewed the text of the proposal, said it played down the possibility of a permanent ceasefire, which would depend on talks held during the deal’s first phase. By contrast, the proposal contained multiple mentions of “sustainable calm,” said the Journal.

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)

Meanwhile, Hamas remained defiant on Saturday after the Israel Defense Forces rescued four hostages from captivity in Gaza.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, the most senior of the terror group’s officials based in Doha, warned in a statement, “If the occupation believes that it can impose its choices on us by force, then it is delusional.”

The terror group said earlier it still held a large number of hostages and could increase it, while its military wing threatened the remaining captives held in Gaza.

The deputy chief of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is an ally of Hamas, said the operation would not impact negotiations on a hostage-for-ceasefire agreement. Mohammad Al-Hindi said that conditions for the deal remain the same, in comments to Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV, referring to the terror groups’ demand for an end to the war in Gaza.

Passersby observe the photos of hostages held in the Gaza Strip that are plastered to the walls of a plaza known as Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 17, 2024 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty).

The US has requested mediators — particularly Qatar — to apply pressure on Hamas in previous rounds of the talks. In April, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said his country was reviewing its role as a mediator due to the “abuse” it had received from critics who claimed Doha was not doing enough to get Hamas to sign an agreement.

Amid the accusations lobbed at Qatar — by Netanyahu and members of the US Congress, among others — The Wall Street Journal reported that Hamas had contacted two other countries in the region about relocating.

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