Qatar ‘threatened to expel Mashaal’ if he agreed to Egypt deal

Palestinian negotiator tells Arabic daily that Doha threatened to deport Hamas chief if he accepted the terms of Cairo’s ceasefire proposal

Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal in the Qatari capital of Doha, on August 10, 2014. (AFP/al-Watan Doha/Karim Jaafar)
Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal in the Qatari capital of Doha, on August 10, 2014. (AFP/al-Watan Doha/Karim Jaafar)

Qatar reportedly threatened to expel Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal if the Gaza-based terror organization agreed to the terms of the ceasefire framework put forth by Egypt.

Arabic daily Al-Hayat reported Wednesday that Doha warned it would deport Mashaal if he approved the agreement in its current form, without insisting that Hamas’s demands — which include the construction of a seaport and airport in the Gaza Strip — be met.

Citing a member of the Palestinian delegation to Cairo, the newspaper said Qatar demands that Egypt give it a role in ending the Gaza crisis. Egypt, however, reportedly rejected the demand, conditioning its agreement to it on Qatar formally apologizing for its policy toward Egypt since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi’s in June 2013.

The Al-Hayat report could not be independently confirmed. Mashaal has been based in Qatar since 2012, having left Damascus after Hamas broke with President Bashar Assad over the Syrian civil war.

Meanwhile Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was due to travel to Doha and hold talks the next day with the emir of Qatar and Mashaal, the Palestinian envoy in Qatar said.

Abbas will on Thursday discuss separately with Mashaal and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani latest developments in the negotiations in Cairo and “aid and reconstruction” in Gaza, Palestinian ambassador Monir Ghannam told AFP.

From Doha, Ghannam said Tuesday, Abbas will travel on to Cairo as part of contacts the Palestinian leadership is staging “with all the parties concerned” in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli delegates at the indirect negotiations in Cairo left Tuesday afternoon, however, after rocket fire from the Gaza Strip broke the truce.

Egyptian mediators have been pushing both sides to put a decisive end to weeks of bloodshed in Gaza, but few details have emerged of the state of the negotiations given the apparently irreconcilable demands of the two sides.

Hamas has continuously rejected an Egyptian proposal for a long-term ceasefire with Israel, with spokesman Osama Hamdan saying Saturday that Israel must either accepts its demands — including for a lifting of the security blockade on Gaza — or face “a war of attrition.”

At the same time, Hamas’s military wing in Gaza declared, “We are continuing our struggle.”

Israel has not formally responded to the Egyptian proposal — an 11-point proposal that was leaked to the press Friday. Israel’s Channel 10 said, however, that Israel was not prepared to dilute its security demands as the Egyptian proposal would have required.

The Egyptian proposal speaks of lifting the Israeli and Egyptian security blockade on Gaza, but any such easing of restrictions would apparently be overseen by Israeli and Egyptian forces on their sides of Gaza’s borders, and by the Palestinian Authority on the Gaza side. The PA would also play a dominant role in the reconstruction of post-conflict Gaza. The Egyptian formula also pushes off negotiations on the opening of a Gaza seaport and airport — key Hamas demands in recent weeks — to a month’s time.

In Qatar, Mashaal responded to the proposal by declaring that “The Palestinian people will continue their struggle until they end the occupation, the colonization and the siege [on Gaza].”

Mashaal said Hamas was not withdrawing any of its demands, and insisted on the full lifting of the blockade, and the establishment of a Gaza seaport and airport.

Abbas on Saturday publicly broke ranks with the Islamist organization, declaring in Ramallah that there was no alternative but to “stick to” the Egyptian proposal.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas in 2007, and maintain it in order to prevent Hamas importing more weaponry. Israel has pushed for Hamas to disarm and for a lifting of the blockade to be tied to the demilitarizing of Hamas, designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US and others. Hamas has rejected the notion.

The first two clauses of the Egyptian proposal call for Israel as well as all Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip to mutually halt all cross border attacks — by land, air or sea. Construction of tunnels into Israel must be stopped at once, the Egyptian document also demands. Israel has repeatedly accepted previous Egyptian proposals for an unconditional ceasefire; Hamas has repeatedly rejected them.

Negotiations about handing over the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails would also be postponed, according to the document.

Until last week, Israel and Hamas were engaged in more than a month of combat. After days of relative quiet, the clashes were renewed on Tuesday night when Hamas broke the temporary ceasefire and Israel retaliated.

Israel launched a military campaign on July 8 to stem rocket fire from Gaza at Israel’s towns, and to locate and destroy a network of cross-border tunnels through which Hamas fighters launched attacks on Israeli soil.

AP contributed to this report.

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