The Gulf diplomatic power has managed to secure the release of four captives from Hamas so far.
Non-stop escalations in Gaza have made Qatar’s mediation task to secure the release of captives from Hamas much more difficult, though the Gulf mediator remains hopeful, a senior Qatari negotiator told Sky News on Thursday.
In an interview with the London-based outlet, Qatar’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Mohammed Al Khulaifi provided an insight into Doha’s latest diplomatic tussle.
“It’s a very, very difficult negotiation that we’ve been dealing with. I always say that one of the most difficult mediations is between two parties that have zero confidence in each other. And to have some sort of indirect talks between the two sides is extremely difficult as you could imagine,” Al Khulaifi said.
He added: “With this violence increasing everyday, with this bombing continuous everyday our task has become even more difficult. But despite that, we remain hopeful, we remain committed to our role of reaching out to the parties with the aim of reaching a positive result.”
The seasoned mediator has been leading negotiations to release civilians captured by Hamas during the group’s surprise October 7 attack on Israel, widely known as ‘Operation Al-Aqsa Flood’.
The historic operation was carried out by the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, which saw the group break out from the besieged Gaza Strip and into occupied areas through air, land and sea attacks.
The resistance group also captured at least 200 people in Israel, including civilians and members of the Israeli occupation forces. Al Khulaifi confirmed earlier reports that it had received calls “from the first hour” from a number of countries seeking Doha’s help to secure their citizens.
Qatar hosts a Hamas political office in its capital, and it has also built a solid reputation as a mediator over the years that has seen world powers release hostages and prisoners globally. Last month, Qatar managed to secure a milestone US-Iran prisoner swap between the two adversaries.
On 20 October, Qatar’s diplomatic role proved to be successful once again with the release of two American captives, identified as Judith Raanan and Natalie Raanan—a mother and a daughter, from Hamas.
Then on Monday, Qatar and Egypt pushed for the release of two elderly women from Hamas, both identified as 79-year old Nurit Yitzhak and 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz.
“Our target is to release all of the civilian hostages, that’s what we’re working on and that’s what we want to achieve. Since the first hour, we’ve been receiving several calls from countries around the globe asking Qatar’s assistance to help their citizens’, in Gaza,” Al Khulaifi noted.
This week, reports pointed to current talks to potentially release a much larger group of 50 captives though little information has been provided. However, The Wall Street Journal suggested those negotiations had come to a standstill after Israel refused to allow fuel to enter into Gaza in exchange for the release.
Al Khulaifi neither confirmed nor denied the report but said Doha is still working on securing more captives and confirmed the first breakthrough has paved the way for more positive results.
However, he stressed that the intensified bombardment on the ground remains a challenge.
“In any normal scenario, if the mediator wants to perform its task in the best way possible, we need to reach a period of calm, we need to reach a period where we can speak logically to both sides and come up with positive initiatives on that,” he said.
A humanitarian ‘disaster’
Qatar has been juggling multiple diplomatic and humanitarian fronts to address the devastating Israeli war on Gaza, where more than 7,000 Palestinians, 66% of which are women and children, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes since October 7.
Qatar sent three aid flights to Egypt last week that carried a total of 124 tonnes of food and medical aid for Gaza. The shared Gaza-Egypt Rafah crossing opened for a brief moment on Saturday and Sunday, though it only allowed the entry of fewer than 70 trucks—none of which contained crucial fuel shipments needed to allow hospitals to run.
Rights organisations around the world have warned the limited amount of aid that has reached Gaza is not nearly close to meeting the needs of its 2.3 million population, much of which is need of urgent humanitarian assistance.
Al Khulaifi said that the humanitarian situation on the ground is “very critical”.
“The people in Gaza need humanitarian assistance today more than ever,” he said while reiterating Qatar’s support for a two-state solution and the adherence to the Arab Peace Initiative.
When asked if there is any “good news” on the horizon regarding the ongoing war in Gaza, the Qatari official said: “We hope so. And, believe me, as soon as we secure that agreement you will hear about it.”
On Tuesday, Gaza’s health sector officially collapsed due to a lack of resources to treat thousands of injured, with witnesses on the ground saying doctors have been operating on patients without anaesthesia.
Separately on Monday, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) warned that the absence of fuel will force humanitarian response to stop.
“In three days, UNRWA will run out of fuel, critical for our humanitarian response across the Gaza Strip,” Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, said in a statement.
The Israeli aggression has forcibly displaced at least one million people in Gaza, many of which are taking shelter inside schools and hospitals.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani slammed Israel’s “barbaric and unprecedented bombing” of Gaza.
Sheikh Tamim also took aim at those standing in support of Israel as it continues its bombing campaign on Gaza, where half of the population are under the age of 15.
“We are saying enough is enough. It is untenable for Israel to be given an unconditional green light and free license to kill, nor is it tenable to continue ignoring the reality of occupation, siege and settlement,” Sheikh Tamim told the Shura Council in Doha .
“We would like to ask those who have aligned with the war, and those acting to gag any dissenting opinion: What would come in the aftermath of this war?” he said.