A Qatari envoy said the energy-rich nation will continue development projects in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, despite a rift with its Gulf neighbors stemming in part from its ties with the Palestinian terror group.
The comment by Mohammed El-Amadi came as the US signed an agreement with Doha to boost counter-terrorism efforts.
El-Amadi spoke Tuesday as he signed a new agreement with a Palestinian contractor to build eight residential buildings.
Qatar has been the largest single donor to Gaza over the past five years, disbursing about a half billion dollars for housing, reconstruction, infrastructure development, and health projects.
In addition to being the largest financial patron to the Hamas-ruled Gaza, Qatar has hosted senior Hamas officials on its soil. It argues its aid is for the Palestinian people rather than the terror group.
Saudi Arabia and its allies have pressed Qatar to end its support to the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood movement, the historical parent of Hamas.
The terror group seized control of Gaza from forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.
Also on Tuesday, the United States and Qatar signed an agreement aimed at shoring up the latter’s counterterrorism efforts.
The memorandum of understanding was signed Tuesday during a visit to the energy-rich country by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson alongside Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.
Tillerson said the agreement was built on decisions made at a Riyadh summit in May to “wipe terrorism from the face of the Earth.”
“As a result of President Trump’s very strong call, these commitments for action, will begin immediately on a number of fronts.”
Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar was the first country in the region to sign a bilateral agreement with Washington on counterterror funding and urged what he called the “siege” nations to follow suit and sign their own agreements with the US.
Tillerson is in the Gulf on a mission aimed at ending a rift between Qatar and four Arab states that accuse it of supporting extremists. Qatar denies the allegation.
He arrived in the Qatari capital of Doha on Tuesday after leaving Kuwait City, where held talks Kuwait’s ruling emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, after arriving in the country on Monday.
Sheikh Sabah has been acting as a mediator between Qatar and four states lined up against it: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
The quartet broke off relations and cut air, sea and land routes to Qatar in early June. They accuse it of supporting terror groups such as Hamas and meddling in their affairs.
Tillerson also gave besieged Qatar some political backing ahead of talks with officials from the Arab quartet in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
“I think Qatar has been quite clear in its positions and I think very reasonable,” he said.
The four nations broke off relations with Qatar and cut air, sea and land routes with it in early June. They later issued a 13-point list of demands to restore relations and gave Doha 10 days to comply.
The demands include Qatar shutting down news outlets, including the media network Al-Jazeera, cutting ties with Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, limiting ties with Iran and expelling Turkish troops stationed in the country.
Qatar strenuously denies supporting extremist groups and has rejected the demands, saying that agreeing to them wholesale would undermine its sovereignty.
Tillerson’s arrival in the Gulf coincided with the release by CNN on Monday of allegedly leaked agreements between Qatar and its neighbors dating from 2013 and 2014. CNN said it received the documents from a source in the region.
They include a handwritten 2013 deal between the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar to not interfere directly or indirectly in the internal affairs of fellow members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which also includes Bahrain, Oman and the UAE.
That agreement specifically ruled out support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other unnamed groups that could threaten the bloc’s members.
Qatar sees the Brotherhood, and its Hamas offshoot, as a legitimate political force and has for years hosted its spiritual guide, Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi. That puts it squarely at odds with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, which see the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
The four anti-Qatar countries lent credibility to the leaked agreements in a statement issued early Tuesday. They asserted that the documents “confirm beyond any doubt Qatar’s failure to meet its commitments and its full violation of its pledges.” Their 13-point list of demands in June was tied to those earlier deals and was “fully in line with the spirit of what was agreed upon,” they said.
The head of Qatar’s government communication office, Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed Al Thani, disputed that, saying the June demands “bore no relation to the Riyadh agreements,” according to a statement carried by the official Qatar News Agency. He called the “siege” by the four states a violation of the GCC charter.
US officials have said Tillerson does not expect an immediate breakthrough in the dispute and cautioned that a resolution could take months.
A senior adviser to Tillerson, R.C. Hammond, has said the demands on Qatar were not viable but that there were individual items on the list “that could work.” He did not elaborate.