Qatar says it’s reconsidering hostage talks mediator role after suffering ‘abuse’

Qatari PM claims Gulf state is victim of ‘point-scoring’ by unnamed politicians ‘trying to conduct election campaigns by slighting’ Doha

Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani gives a press conference with his Turkish counterpart in Doha on April 17, 2024. (Karim Jaafar/AFP)
Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani gives a press conference with his Turkish counterpart in Doha on April 17, 2024. (Karim Jaafar/AFP)

Qatar is reassessing its role as a mediator between Israel and Hamas after suffering criticism, its prime minister said on Wednesday.

“Qatar is in the process of a complete re-evaluation of its role,” Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani told a Doha news conference.

“There is exploitation and abuse of the Qatari role,” he said, adding that Qatar had been the victim of “point-scoring” by “politicians who are trying to conduct election campaigns by slighting the State of Qatar.”

Al-Thani did not mention any politicians by name.

Qatar, with the United States and Egypt, has been engaged in weeks 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 October 7 terror assault — as well as the release of the 129 Israeli hostages still held by Gazan terror groups.

The mediators had hoped to secure a deal before the start of Ramadan, but progress repeatedly faltered without any cessation of hostilities during the Muslim holy month, which ended last week.

Earlier Wednesday, al-Thani said negotiations had stalled.

“We are going through a sensitive stage with some stalling, and we are trying as much as possible to address this stalling,” the Qatari premier said.

Qatar, which has hosted Hamas’s politburo leaders since 2012 at the behest of the United States, has rebuffed frequent criticism of its mediation from Israel including by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In this Feb. 6, 2012 file photo, then-Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, center, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and then-Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal, arrive to sign an agreement in Doha, Qatar. (AP Photo/Osama Faisal, File)

In December, al-Thani told Mossad chief David Barnea that he was not inclined to accede to Israeli requests to assist in the reconstruction of Gaza, given Jerusalem’s treatment of Qatar throughout the war.

He told Barnea that Qatar wanted to see a significant shift in Israel’s behavior vis-a-vis Qatar, pointing to several instances during the war in which he claimed Doha-funded infrastructure in Gaza had been wrongfully targeted.

He also raised concerns over an assertion made several times by Netanyahu that Qatar has failed to sufficiently pressure Hamas in the hostage talks — a claim that Doha rejects, and which has also been repeated by some US lawmakers.

On Tuesday, the Qatari embassy in Washington issued a statement rebuking Democratic lawmaker Steny Hoyer over his calls for Qatar to exert pressure on Hamas to secure a hostage release.

Hoyer also called on the US to “reevaluate” its relationship with Qatar, saying that it must threaten Hamas with repercussions if the terror group “continues to block progress towards releasing the hostages and establishing a temporary ceasefire,” echoing a consistent request from Israel.

Fears have grown of the months-long conflict in Gaza spilling over into a regional war after Iran’s first-ever direct attack on Israel over the weekend, in which it launched around 350 attack drones and missiles, most of which were intercepted.

The Qatari premier said Doha had “warned from the beginning of this war against the expansion of the circle of conflict, and today we see conflicts on different fronts.”

“We constantly call on the international community to assume its responsibilities and stop this war,” he added, charging the people of Gaza faced “siege and starvation” with humanitarian aid being used as a “tool for political blackmail.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani shake hands after their joint press conference at Diwan Annex, in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool)

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

Critics have warned that 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, murdering some 1,200 people and seizing 253 civilians.

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 just under 33,900 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 IDF soldiers have been killed since Israel launched the ground offensive to destroy Hamas and get back the hostages, of whom 129 remain in Gaza, not all of them alive.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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