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War on Gaza: Qatar 're-evaluating' role as mediator between Israel and Hamas

Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said he 'lamented the political exploitation' of Doha’s mediation efforts
A cloud of smoke erupts down the road as a man drives a cart loaded with jerrycans in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on 17 April 2024 (AFP)

Qatar's prime minister has said the Gulf state is re-evaluating its role as mediator between Israel and Hamas, adding that Doha's efforts to secure a ceasefire and prisoner release deal were being undermined by politicians with "narrow interests".

Speaking on Wednesday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said he "lamented the political exploitation" of Doha's diplomacy by some politicians who were "marketing their electoral campaigns through the defamation of Qatar's role".

Whilst Sheikh Mohammed did not name the politicians, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly criticised Qatar and recently threatened to shut down the local operations of Qatar-owned broadcaster Al Jazeera.

Sheikh Mohammed's comments also came days after Qatar's embassy in Washington denounced senior US Democratic lawmaker Steny Hoyer for threatening to "reevaluate" the US relationship with Doha over the inability of Hamas and Israel to reach a prisoner exchange deal.

"We share his (Hoyer's) frustration that Hamas and Israel have not reached an agreement on the release of the remaining hostages," Qatar's embassy said in a statement.

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"But blaming and threatening the mediator is not constructive, especially when the target is a friend and Major Non-NATO Ally that presently hosts 10,000 US troops and America's largest military presence in the Middle East."

Qatar, along with the US and Egypt, has played a critical role in mediating between Israel and Hamas since the 7 October attack. In November, Doha helped broker a temporary ceasefire during which Hamas released 81 Israeli captives in exchange for 240 Palestinians.

However, months of subsequent diplomatic efforts have struggled due to wide gaps between Israel and Hamas.

On Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller praised Qatar's involvement in the protracted negotiations, and said the Gulf state's involvement had been "incredibly important".

"It is because of their work that we’ve already seen hostages come home," Miller said. 

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He added that it was not due to Qatar or Egypt, another player in the negotiations, that a deal had not been settled.

While Qatar is home to some senior Hamas political officials, it also maintains indirect ties with Israel and is a linchpin in the US security system in the region.

Hamas was based in Syria until 2012, when it fell out with the Assad government over the country’s civil war, and only moved to Qatar at the request of the US in a bid to maintain an indirect line of communication with the group, Qatari officials say.

Before the 7 October attack, Qatar also coordinated directly with the US and Israel to finance electricity for Gaza, fund reconstruction projects and pay impoverished civil servants' salaries.

Those payments were made with the approval of Netanyahu, and analysts say it was beneficial for Israel in keeping the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip divided between Hamas and Fatah, the main party in the Palestinian Authority.

The more than six-month Israeli offensive on Gaza has killed at least 34,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and children, health officials say. Thousands more are missing and presumed dead under the rubble

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