newsIsrael at War

Qatar uses Israeli hostages to extend lifeline to Hamas

The Gulf state is trying to soften U.S. pressure by freeing captives from Gaza.

Israelis rally in Tel Aviv to demand the return of the hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza, Dec. 16, 2023. Photo by Eitan Elhadez-Barak/TPS.
Israelis rally in Tel Aviv to demand the return of the hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza, Dec. 16, 2023. Photo by Eitan Elhadez-Barak/TPS.

While the U.S. pressures Qatar to expel Hamas leaders from its territory, Doha is instead trying to leverage its mediation to secure the terrorist groups’ future in the Gulf state.

“Qatar is under very heavy pressure from the United States, which is demanding that it change direction vis-à-vis Hamas and is already about to impose a series of heavy sanctions on Hamas,” an Arab source said.

“The chances are very high that Qatar will soon ask [Hamas Chairman] Ismail Haniyeh and the leadership team to leave the country, but in the meantime, it is trying to soften the pressure by releasing hostages.”

According to a series of Arab media reports, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is pressing Doha to remove Hamas from Qatari soil, arguing that the existing relationship cannot continue. However, Qatar is trying to soften Washington’s pressure by promoting additional hostage release deals and touting its ability to moderate Hamas.

Specifically, the Qataris have leaned on the terrorist group to issue some moderating statements and suggested that Hamas be integrated into the Palestine Liberation Organization.

On Dec. 13, Haniyeh, who is based in Qatar, said he was open to talks to end the war and “putting the Palestinian house in order both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”

The following day, senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk broached the subject of recognizing Israel in an interview with Al Monitor.

“You should follow the official stance. The official stance is that the PLO has recognized the state of Israel,” Marzouk was quoted as saying.

However, divisions within Gaza may short-circuit Qatar’s plans. Sources said that while Haniyeh is inclined to support additional hostage release deals, Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas chief in the Strip who controls the fate of the hostages, refuses to cooperate.

“Sinwar acts as the one most loyal to the Iranian camp in recent times and defies Qatar,” an Arab source explained.

Arab countries are continuing to promote a plan for post-war Gaza, one of whose guiding principles is “neither [PLO/P.A./Fatah chief Mahmoud] Abbas nor Hamas.”

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