As Qatar faces increasing pressure from its Arab neighbors to cut ties to jihadist groups, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani insisted Saturday that Palestinian terror group Hamas is “a legitimate resistance movement.”
Al-Thani, during a visit to Russia to discuss the crisis, said: “The US sees Hamas as a terror organization, but to the rest of the Arab nations it is a legitimate resistance movement. We do not support Hamas, we support the Palestinian people.”
“We cooperate with the Palestinian Authority,” he said, adding however, that Doha saw Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and the PA’s Fatah as a duty. “Hamas’s presence in Qatar doesn’t mean there’s support for Hamas in Qatar. Hamas’s presence is a political representation of the Hamas movement.”
Al-Thani noted that the movement’s leadership “is currently in Palestine” and no longer in his country, since Khaled Mashaal was replaced by Gazan Ismail Haniyeh as head of the group’s political bureau.
Despite Al-Thani statement’s Arab media has reported that Qatar ordered several senior Hamas members to leave its territory recently in response to outside pressure, including Salah al-Arouri, the terror chief who orchestrated the 2014 kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens.
Hamas welcomed Al-Thani’s statements with spokesman Fawzi Barhoum saying they “expressed the noble Arab character” and Qatar’s support of “the Palestinian people and its legitimate resistance.”
Al-Thani on Thursday denied that his country funded extremists. He said Qatar, as an independent nation, also had the right to support groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, despite the fact that its neighbors outlawed the Sunni Islamist organization.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and other countries severed diplomatic ties with Qatar earlier this week and cut off air, sea and land travel to the peninsular nation.
Russia called on Saturday for dialogue between Qatar and its neighbors in the Gulf, promising help in mediating the crisis.
“We have observed with concern the news of this escalation,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during his meeting with Al-Thani in Moscow. “We cannot be happy in a situation when the relations between our partners are worsening. We are in favor of resolving any disagreements through… dialogue.”
With Doha under pressure to cut ties with Islamist groups and Hamas fearing a possible loss of its main source of international support, a senior Hamas official said Saturday that a delegation headed by the group’s leader Haniyeh would visit Iran in the near future.
According to the official, Osama Hamdan, the delegation will visit several other countries as well, though he did not provide details, the Hebrew language Walla news site reported.
If Qatar does sever ties, the result could be disastrous for Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Qatar has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in roads, housing and a major hospital in the tiny territory. Its infrastructure projects are one of the few job-creators in a beleaguered economy.
A Hamas source told Israel Radio on Saturday that the organization’s leadership was also concerned the Qatari diplomatic crisis would harm recent efforts at reconciliation between the organization and the Egyptian government.
The two had been at loggerheads over Hamas support from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, who were deposed from power by the military.
Gaza already suffers from an Israeli-Egyptian blockade — imposed to prevent the group from importing weaponry — economic misery and chronic electricity shortages. For Hamas, Qatar’s money pumping into the economy is a vital lifeline bolstering its rule.
Closer ties between Hamas and Iran are hardly likely to mollify the Gulf states and Egypt. One of the main factors driving the crisis is Qatar’s close ties to Tehran and fears of expanding Iranian influence further destabilizing the region.
Hamas expressed shock on Wednesday over Saudi Arabia’s demand that Qatar end its support.
Saudi Arabia and its allies cut off ties with Qatar on Monday after accusing the gas-rich state of supporting extremism across the region.
On Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said that to rebuild relations, Doha must cut its support for “extremist” groups, including Hamas.
He said Qatar-supported Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, “undermines the Palestinian Authority.”
In a statement on its website, Hamas said the party felt “deep regret and disapproval” at the Saudi statement.
“These statements are a shock to our Palestinian people and to our Arab and Islamic nation, which considers the Palestinian cause its central cause,” the statement said.