Qatar criticises Israel’s Netanyahu over Hamas comments

Qatar Foreign Ministry officials accuse prime minister of seeking to prolong Israel’s war on Gaza.

Majed Al-Ansari, Qatar's foreign ministry spokesperson, holds a weekly briefing at the ministry in Doha, Qatar November 28, 2023. REUTERS/Imad Creidi
Majed Al-Ansari, Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, says the country has been committed from day one of the war to mediation efforts [File: Imad Creid/Reuters]

Qatar has criticised comments from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he said the Gulf state should do more to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and claimed that the Palestinian group is financially dependent on Doha.

In a speech before American Jewish leaders on Sunday, Netanyahu said pressure should be applied on Qatar, which played a key role in mediating November’s truce and hostage-prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas.

“Qatar can press Hamas as no one else can. They host Hamas leaders. Hamas is dependent on them financially,” Netanyahu said. “I urge you to press Qatar to press Hamas because we want our hostages released.”

Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said Doha “categorically rejects the empty accusations”.

“The Israeli Prime Minister’s recent statements in which he calls on Qatar to pressure Hamas into releasing the [Israeli] hostages are nothing but a new attempt by him to delay and prolong the war for reasons that have become clear to everyone,” he wrote on X on Monday.

“We categorically reject the empty accusations made by the Israeli Prime Minister regarding Qatari efforts in reconstruction and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people in Gaza, portraying them as funding Hamas, which he personally knows were carried out in full coordination with Israel, the US, Egypt, the United Nations, and all concerned parties,” Al-Ansari said.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said over the weekend that negotiations over a potential ceasefire were “not very promising”.

Sheikh Mohammed, who is also foreign minister, said on Saturday he could not give details on the talks but, as with past deals, there were two elements: humanitarian conditions in Gaza and the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released in exchange for the release of Israeli captives.

The United States, Qatar and Egypt have spent weeks trying to broker a halt to fighting in Gaza and release of the captives, but there’s a wide gap between Israel’s and Hamas’s demands. Qatar said on Saturday that the talks “have not been progressing as expected”.

Hamas has said it will not release the remaining hostages without Israel ending the war and withdrawing its forces from Gaza. It also demands the release of hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, including top fighters.

Netanyahu has publicly rejected the demands and any scenario in which Hamas would rebuild its military and governing capabilities. He said he sent a delegation to ceasefire talks in Cairo last week at US President Joe Biden’s request but doesn’t see the point in sending a team again.

In an interview with Israel’s Kan public broadcaster, Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, said military pressure and sticking to a strict line in negotiations could lead Hamas to drop its “absurd demands”.

Netanyahu also opposes Palestinian statehood, which the US calls a key element for normalisation of relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia.

Previously in December, Israel pulled its Mossad negotiators from Qatar after an impasse in negotiations. Israel had accused Hamas of not fulfilling its side of an agreement to extend the November truce in Gaza.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies