ExclusiveDoha quietly issued directive due to frustration with Hamas

Qatar briefly kicked out Hamas leaders as hostage talks stalled in April — officials

Terror group’s reps moved to Turkey but were allowed back weeks later as talks gathered steam, though they again collapsed after Egypt gave sides different offers, officials say

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

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)

WASHINGTON — Qatar quietly asked Hamas leaders to leave Doha last month amid frustration with the terror group’s handling of the hostage negotiations, two government officials told The Times of Israel this week.

This was the first time since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war that Qatar took such a step, aiming to pressure the terror organization to agree to a compromise in talks that have yet to bear fruit since a weeklong hostages-for-truce deal in late November.

The Qatari directive came shortly after an April 17 announcement by Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani that Doha had decided to launch a review of its mediator role, the officials said.

Al-Thani’s frustration was seen as primarily directed at Israel, following repeated criticism of Qatar by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders amid the hostage negotiations. Jerusalem has taken particular issue over what it considers Qatar’s failure to adequately pressure its longtime client Hamas during the talks.

But the officials speaking to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity revealed that the review announced by the premier also stemmed from frustration with Hamas, namely the group’s refusal to sufficiently compromise in successive rounds of hostage negotiations.

After being told to leave Qatar, Hamas leaders traveled to Turkey where they remained for several weeks, meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has hailed their efforts in fighting Israel.

Protesters calling for the release of Hamas hostages block Hakfar Hayarok Junction near the central Israel city of Ramat Hasharon, May 15, 2024. (Flash90)

Roughly two weeks later, though, Egypt launched its own initiative to broker a hostage deal.

As those negotiations began to stall, Qatar informed Hamas’s leaders that they could return to Doha in hopes that this would prevent the talks from collapsing altogether.

However, the talks still fell apart after Hamas returned to Qatar.

Weeks earlier, Hamas said that it had accepted a ceasefire proposal crafted by Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

The announcement sparked celebrations in Gaza, but the US later clarified that Hamas had in fact issued a significantly amended response to the proposal crafted earlier by mediators and green-lit by Israel. The Hamas response included demands that both the US and Israel have said were unacceptable.

The negotiations subsequently disbanded and have yet to reconvene, with the sides unable to bridge the gap on the fundamental issue in the talks: Hamas is looking for a hostage deal that permanently ends the war triggered by its October 7 onslaught, while Israel is only willing to agree to a temporary ceasefire, as it aims to finish dismantling the terror group.

Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, CIA chief Bill Burns and Egyptian intel chief Abbas Kamel. (Collage/AFP)

The two officials said part of the reason that the talks didn’t succeed was that Egypt presented separate proposals to Israel and Hamas. The one discussed with Israel was closer to Jerusalem’s stance, leaving a window for it to continue the war after the truce and hostage deal was implemented. Meanwhile, the one presented with Hamas was closer to its demand for the initial truce to be turned permanent.

The officials said this strategy was not coordinated with the other mediators and that it particularly angered CIA director Bill Burns, who has been one of the main brokers.

Despite the latest breakdown in talks, Hamas’s leaders have remained in Qatar, which is continuing to urge them to return to the negotiation table. Doha’s initial directive for them to leave appears to no longer be in place, with Al-Thani saying this week that the talks were at a stalemate due to Israel’s military operations in Rafah.

Israeli-American hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23, held captive in Gaza since October 7, in a Hamas propaganda video released on April 24, 2024. (Screenshot: Telegram)

Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Al-Thani that Doha should expel Hamas’s leaders if they continue rejecting hostage deal proposals, a US official said. The message was still conditional, and a clear directive from Washington urging Doha to pull the trigger on a formal, public expulsion has not followed.

Qatar is prepared to take such a step if a direct request is made, a source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel earlier this month.

A senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel that Qatar should not only be threatening to kick Hamas out of Qatar but also be freezing its assets in order to pressure the terror group.

Meanwhile, White House Middle East czar Brett McGurk visited Qatar earlier this week, where he met with Al-Thani to try and again jumpstart hostage negotiations, the officials said.

The CIA declined to comment.

The Egyptian and Qatari foreign ministries along with a spokesperson for Hamas did not respond to requests for comment either.

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