Qatar anticipating US request to expel Hamas leaders, is open to doing so — source

US official says Blinken told Al-Thani last month that Doha should kick out terror officials if they continue to reject hostage deal proposals

Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (L), ruler of Qatar since 2013, in a meeting with Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh (R) and Khaled Mashal in Doha, October 17, 2016 (Qatar government handout)
Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (L), ruler of Qatar since 2013, in a meeting with Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh (R) and Khaled Mashal in Doha, October 17, 2016 (Qatar government handout)

Qatar is prepared to accept a request from the US for it to expel Hamas’s leaders from Doha and is anticipating one could be made soon, a source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Thani last month that Doha should expel Hamas’s leaders if the terror group continues to reject hostage deal proposals, a US official said, confirming reporting in the Washington Post.

Negotiations appeared poised to reach an inflection point over the weekend, with CIA chief Bill Burns arriving in Cairo on Friday and a Hamas delegation landing later on Saturday, as the sides await the terror group’s response to the latest hostage deal proposal crafted by Egyptian, Qatari and American mediators and green-lit by Israel.

The US has blamed Hamas for refusing to accept previous offers and says Hamas is the only obstacle to a deal that would see dozens of the most vulnerable Israel hostages released in exchange for an immediate ceasefire of at least six weeks.

The source familiar with the matter indicated that a US request for Doha to expel Hamas’s leadership could come if the terror group rejects the latest offer on the table.

An Israeli official said Hamas is not expected to reject the offer outright, but rather return with an amended offer of its own.

File: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at Lusail Palace, in Doha on February 6, 2024. (Mark Schiefelbein/Pool/AFP)

But given that patience with Hamas is running out in Washington, anything other than an affirmative response to the deal on the table might be enough to lead the US to formally ask Qatar to expel the terror group, the source said.

In March, two officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel that Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani had proposed expelling Hamas’s leaders from Doha during a meeting with Blinken days after the terror group’s October 7 onslaught.

The proposal was made in somewhat of a roundabout way during the emir’s opening remarks at an October 13 closed-door meeting in Doha with Blinken. Thani began by expressing his horror over Hamas’s attack in which some 1,200 people in Israel were slaughtered and another 252 were abducted into Gaza. He then asked whether it was time for the US to ask Qatar to expel the Hamas’s leaders, the two officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

When Blinken began his own remarks, he didn’t respond directly to the emir’s proposal but did go on to say that he thought it would be better for Qatar to use its contacts with Hamas — through the office it allowed the terror group to establish in Doha in 2012 at Washington’s behest — to mediate between the Gaza war parties to secure a hostage deal, the officials recalled. They added that the US secretary of state also clarified that it would not be “business as usual” for Hamas in Qatar once the conflict concludes.

Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (R), ruler of Qatar since 2013, in a meeting with Hamas politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) and official Khaled Mashal in Doha, October 17, 2016 (Qatar government handout)

Even if Hamas’s leaders were to be expelled, it is unclear what the impact would be, given that those hosted in Doha have spent most of their time since October 7 in Turkey where their families reside, the official divulged.

Turkey has also come under fire for hosting Hamas officials. But while Turkish authorities are said to have periodically ordered some of those members to leave the country, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who this week severed all trade ties with Israel, has repeatedly expressed support for the terror group.

Last month, Qatar said there were no plans to end the presence of an office for Hamas in Doha while the country’s mediation efforts continue in the Gaza war.

“As long as their presence here in Doha, as we have always said, is useful and positive in this mediation effort, they will remain here,” foreign ministry spokesperson Majed al-Ansari told a press conference.

Al-Ansari added that Qatar remained committed to mediation but was reassessing its role in “frustration with attacks” on its efforts.

Families and supporters of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza hold banners and flags during a protest calling for their return, outside a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and families of hostages in Tel Aviv, May 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Doha has rebuffed frequent criticism of its mediation from Israel, including by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The comments came after it was reported that Hamas’s political chiefs were exploring moving their base of operations out of Qatar, as the Gulf state faced increasing pressure over its influence with the terror group in indirect hostage-for-truce negotiations with Israel.

Citing Arab officials, The Wall Street Journal said Hamas had 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.

Qatar has hosted Hamas’s politburo leaders, including Haniyeh, since 2012.

The Gulf state, 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 132 hostages still held by Gazan terror groups.

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 13 years later amid the 2009 Gaza war, Israel has coordinated with Qatar over the years for Doha to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to finance Gaza humanitarian projects along with the salaries of the Strip’s civil servants.

A Hamas-appointed government employee in Gaza signs a document to receive 50 percent of her long-overdue salary from funds donated by Qatar, while others wait in the queue, at the main Gaza Post Office, in Gaza City, December 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

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, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seizing 252 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 34,500 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 three IDF soldiers have been killed since Israel launched the ground offensive in Gaza.

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