Qatar ‘appalled’ by reported criticism from Israel’s Netanyahu

File photo showing Qatar's foreign ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari in Doha, Qatar (28 November 2023)
Image caption,Qatar’s foreign ministry said the Israeli prime minister’s reported remarks were “irresponsible” but “not surprising”

By David Gritten

BBC News

Qatar has said it is “appalled” by remarks attributed to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he apparently called its role as a mediator in the Gaza war “problematic”.

Israeli TV broadcast what it said was a recording of Mr Netanyahu telling the families of hostages held by Hamas that “you don’t hear me thanking Qatar”.

“They have leverage… because they finance [Hamas],” he reportedly adds.

Qatar said the comments, if true, were “irresponsible” but “not surprising”.

The tiny Gulf emirate has had high-level contacts with Israel since the 1990s, but they have never officially established diplomatic relations.

Qatar has long championed the Palestinian cause and hosts political leaders of Hamas, which is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the UK, the US and other countries.

It is has also provided hundreds of millions of dollars of aid for Gaza, which has been subject to a crippling blockade by Israel and Egypt since 2006, when Hamas won legislative elections. The blockade was tightened the following year when Hamas reinforced its power in Gaza by violently ousting Palestinian Authority (PA) forces.

Since 2018, Israeli governments have allowed Qatar to pay the wages of tens of thousands of civil servants in Gaza’s Hamas-run government, financially support the poorest families, and fund fuel deliveries for the territory’s sole power plant. Qatar insists the funding was only for civilian and humanitarian purposes.

The policy sparked controversy within Israel, with critics warning it was helping Hamas to stay in power and fund its military activities.

Mr Netanyahu – who has been re-elected to office for all but one of the past 15 years – said it was a way to dissuade attacks on Israel and prevent a humanitarian disaster in Gaza.

Following the cross-border attacks on southern Israel on 7 October, in which about 1,300 people were killed and 250 others were taken back to Gaza as hostages, he dismissed as a “big lie” accusations that he had also encouraged the payments in order to strengthen Hamas at the expense of the PA.

Israel responded to the attacks by launching a large-scale military campaign in Gaza with the aim of destroying Hamas. More than 25,000 people have been killed in the fighting, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Qatar used its ties with Hamas to help broker a week-long pause in the fighting in late November, during which 105 Israeli and foreign hostages were freed in exchange for some 240 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

The emirate has for weeks been trying to broker a new ceasefire, with Gaza’s humanitarian crisis worsening and with the Israeli government coming under mounting domestic pressure to secure the release of the remaining hostages.

On Tuesday, Israel’s Channel 12 TV released what it said was a recording of Mr Netanyahu telling hostages’ families: “You don’t hear me thanking Qatar. Have you noticed?”

“Why? Because for me it is essentially no different from the UN or Red Cross, and in a certain sense is even more problematic – I have no illusions about them.”

“But I’m ready to use any actor right now that helps me bring [the hostages] home,” he added.

Israel has accused the UN and Red Cross of not doing enough to support the hostages or to help get them freed.

The prime minister purportedly said the reason Qatar could help was because of “leverage” over Hamas.

“Why do they have leverage? Because they finance them.”

On Wednesday night, Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “These remarks if validated, are irresponsible and destructive to the efforts to save innocent lives, but are not surprising.”

“For months, and following a successful mediation last year that led to the release of more than 100 hostages, Qatar has been engaged in regular dialogue with the negotiating parties including Israeli institutions, attempting to establish the framework for a new hostage agreement and the immediate entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza.”

He added that Mr Netanyahu appeared to be undermining the mediation efforts “for reasons that appear to serve his political career”.

In response, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich wrote on X: “Qatar is a country that supports and finances terrorism. It is Hamas’s patron and is largely responsible for the massacre of Israeli citizens by Hamas.”

“One thing is certain: Qatar will not have one iota of involvement in Gaza on the day after the war,” he added.

There was no immediate comment from Qatar’s foreign ministry.

Meanwhile US President Biden is sending the director of the CIA to try to broker a new deal on hostages held in Gaza, the BBC’s US partner CBS has confirmed.

William Burns will meet the Qatari PM and directors of Mossad, Israel’s secret service, in France.

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