A senior Israeli government official voiced rare praise Wednesday for Qatar, the Gulf nation that has long hosted Hamas’s top leaders and funded the Palestinian terror group, praising it for “crucial” diplomatic efforts that have resulted so far in four Israeli captives being released from the Gaza Strip and a trickle of humanitarian aid entering the besieged territory.
“I’m pleased to say that Qatar is becoming an essential party and stakeholder in the facilitation of humanitarian solutions. Qatar’s diplomatic efforts are crucial at this time,” National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi posted on X, formerly Twitter.
Qatar, a US ally that hosts a large US military base, also hosts Hamas’s political bureau and doubles as the main 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.
Due to their close ties, the wealthy Gulf monarchy has acted as a communications channel with Hamas and is playing a key role in negotiations to release some of the at least 220 hostages currently held by terrorists in the Gaza Strip following Hamas’s murderous assault on Israel on October 7, in which some 1,400 were killed, the vast majority of them civilians.
Four of the hostages have been freed.
In past rounds of violence, Qatar also played a role in brokering ceasefires between Israel and Gazan terror groups.
Hanegbi’s statement was criticized by former prime minister Naftali Bennett, who accused the current government of “making a grave mistake.”
“Qatar isn’t an ‘essential partner to humanitarian and diplomatic actions.’ Qatar is the enemy itself. Qatar funds, aids and props up the terror group Hamas-ISIS,” Bennett tweeted, echoing a comparison with the Islamic State terror group that many Israeli officials and advocates have been drawing in light of evidence of Hamas members beheading and otherwise torturing and mutilating their victims on October 7.
“Israel’s stated goal is to destroy Hamas,” Bennett continued. “Qatar’s goal is the exact opposite: to save Hamas. How can we destroy the enemy if we’re handing out compliments to its chief sponsor, for God’s sake… Qatar… will introduce limited hostage deals every few days to confuse Israel and hinder its efforts to eradicate Hamas.”
Qatar’s foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who also serves as prime minister, said Wednesday that hostage negotiations with Hamas were continuing.
“Regarding the progress on the hostage negotiation, it’s still ongoing,” Sheikh Mohammed said during a news conference with his Turkish counterpart in Doha. “If we compare where we started and where we are right now, there is some progress and some breakthrough and we will remain hopeful. The negotiations are still ongoing and at any moment of time, I think that if we will be able to get along between the two parties, I think we will see some breakthroughs hopefully soon.”
Under arrangements stemming from past Hamas ceasefire understandings with Israel, the gas-rich emirate of Qatar has in recent years paid the salaries of civil servants in the Gaza Strip, provided direct cash transfers to poor families and offered other kinds of humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza.
Hosting the Hamas leaders has brought scrutiny to Qatar, both in the past and since the killings on October 7, the deadliest day in Israel’s history.
However, US President Joe Biden’s administration has repeatedly praised Qatar for its efforts in working to free the hostages, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Doha during his recent shuttle diplomacy trip in the region.
“Qatar is a longtime partner of ours who is responding to our request, because I think they believe that innocent civilians ought to be freed,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Monday.
Meanwhile, Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, has channeled the wider anger in the Arab world over Israel’s operation in Gaza, which was launched after the October 7 attack with the declared goal of eradicating Hamas and destroying its terror infrastructure.
According to unverified reports by the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, over 5,800 Gazans have been killed in the Israeli air campaign. The number of terror operatives among them is unknown.
On Tuesday, the emir lashed out at Israel’s backers, accusing them of giving the country a “free license to kill” and declaring that “enough is enough.”
“It is untenable for Israel to be given an unconditional green light and free license to kill, nor is it tenable to continue ignoring the reality of occupation, siege and settlement,” the Qatari leader said.
“It should not be allowed in our time to use cutting off water and preventing medicine and food as weapons against an entire population,” he added, referring to Israel’s “complete siege” of Gaza, as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has termed the effort to apply pressure on Hamas.
Israeli leaders have said it is unthinkable that the country should keep supplying goods and energy to the enclave following the onslaught, and with terrorists holding hundreds captive.
Since Saturday, several dozen aid trucks have been granted passage into Gaza after being checked by Israel for weapons or other items that could be used by Hamas. But international organizations say some 100 a day are needed to meet the needs of the population.
Qatar has borne withering criticism from the US and others over its pan-Arab, staunchly anti-Israel satellite news network Al Jazeera. It aired statements from the late al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden and has been providing nonstop coverage of the toll of Israel’s large-scale airstrikes in this war with Hamas, including images of the dead and dying that have fueled demonstrations across the Middle East and wider world.
According to a Wednesday report, Blinken, the US secretary of state, asked Qatar’s prime minister to tone down the state-owned Al Jazeera’s rhetoric about the Gaza war.
The request to “turn down the volume on Al Jazeera’s coverage because it is full of anti-Israel incitement,” Axios reported, suggesting that the US fears the Qatari network’s coverage of the war is inflaming tensions in the region.
The request was one of several Blinken made as part of a broader plea for Qatar to change its public posture toward Hamas, the report said.
Speaking alongside the Qatari prime minister in Doha earlier this month, Blinken said “there can be no more business as usual with Hamas.”
Agencies contributed to this report.