Qatar seeks role as Gaza mediator despite Israeli opposition

Gulf state has emerged as a leading supporter of Islamist groups

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki during  an extraordinary session of the Arab League  in Cairo on Monday. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki during an extraordinary session of the Arab League in Cairo on Monday. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 01:01

With Egyptian efforts to broker a truce between Israel and _Hamas making little headway after 10 days of warfare, Qatari officials say it is time for the Gulf state to step in, citing its close links to the Palestinian group.

But while US officials say Washington has asked Qatar to try to influence Hamas, whose leader lives in Doha, they emphasise that those links mean Israel is unlikely to accept it as a mediator.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has rejected Egyptian efforts to end fighting that has killed more than 200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, saying any deal must include an end to a blockade of the coastal area and a recommitment to a ceasefire reached in an eight-day war there in 2012.

Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli air strikes had largely stopped during a five-hour humanitarian ceasefire yesterday, but fighting then resumed with Israel launching a ground invasion of Gaza.

Hamas officials said Cairo’s proposal was drafted without any communication with Hamas leaders, whom Egypt has shunned as being linked with the Muslim Brotherhood.

With the US also considering Hamas to be a terrorist organisation, making direct contact impossible, Ezzat al-Rishq, a Hamas official in Doha, said: “Qatar is the only country that reached out to us and I wouldn’t say it’s mediation – it’s still too early, they have just opened a line of communication,” said Ezzat al-Rishq, a Hamas official in Doha.

Kerry contact

US secretary of state John Kerry contacted the Egyptian and Qatari foreign ministers again yesterday, state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Western diplomatic sources in the Gulf said the US had approached Qatar after it realised that the Cairo deal was bound to fail with Hamas being kept out of the picture.

“Hamas are the ones behind the attacks: if you don’t include them any deal will fall apart fast, Qatar is best placed to mediate with Hamas,” said a western diplomat in Doha.

Qatar, a tiny but wealthy Gulf Arab state which has emerged as a leading supporter of Islamist groups after Arab Spring protests that began in 2011, sees the stand-off as a chance to play a key role in trying to broker a ceasefire.

“We have good relations with Hamas and the West and a solid track record of being international mediators,” a source close to the government said.

Exiled Islamists

It hosts a large number of exiled Islamists from across the Middle East, including Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who enjoys ample air time on the Doha-funded al-Jazeera news network.

During gatherings in Doha, Mr Mashaal is always keen to express his gratitude and prayers to Qatar’s leaders for their support of the Palestinian cause.

The government source said that Qatar had noted the demands of Hamas and was now waiting for the US to present Israel’s conditions before kicking off a mediation.

“Both sides will present the proposals they have and that will be the best way to reach an effective ceasefire,” the source said.

But Israeli and US officials both poured cold water on the idea of direct Qatari mediation.

“The Qatari initiative is not on the table,” a senior Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Israel wants to see an arrangement that Abu Mazen [Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas] is involved in.” – (Reuters)