Sheikh Mohammed maintained that “it is very early to judge” progress in talks over the exchange of prisoners and hostages.
Discussions took place between Qatar’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Doha on Friday.
Talks between the diplomats mainly dealt with the ongoing escalations in Gaza, where Israel has killed more than 1,900 so far, a third of which, children.
Gaza is currently facing a complete Israeli siege. Israel has prevented access to water, electricity and food to more than 2 million residents of the blockaded enclave. Announcing the siege on Monday, Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said “There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly”.
In a joint press briefing at the Amiri Diwan, Sheikh Mohammed stressed that Qatar’s priorities “within the diplomatic approach is to seek a ceasefire, protect the civilians, release the captives.”
“We also exchanged our viewpoints regarding humanitarian corridors to keep the assistance and aid reaching the Palestinians, particularly within the deterioration of the situation in Gaza Strip,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
The top Qatari diplomat emphasised that the humanitarian situation in Gaza “is a disaster.”
“What we can see in Gaza Strip and shortage of basic needs, no electricity – because of the bombardment,” the Qatari foreign minister said.
However, Blinken claimed efforts to get humanitarian aid into Gaza “are complicated by the fact that Hamas continues to use innocent civilians as human shields”. The US designates Hamas as “a terrorist organisation”.
Qatar, which hosts a Hamas political office, has been at the forefront of de-escalation efforts in Gaza since the onset of the latest events.
The Gulf state has been in close contact with key international partners, namely the US, Turkiye, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, among others in an effort to explore an end to the escalations in Gaza.
“The only way to reach a peaceful solution is to open all contact channels with all partners and concerned parties through cooperation[…] Qatar deeply believes that mediation, dialogue are very important and this is part of our foreign policy,” Sheikh Mohammed told the press.
Blinken had met with Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani hours ahead of the briefing, where they discussed “developments in the Palestinian territories and humanitarian conditions there”, an Amiri Diwan statement said.
Sheikh Tamim stressed the importance of ensuring that “the conflict does not expand regionally”.
“The Amir also stressed the State of Qatar’s firm position on condemning the targeting of civilians,” the statement added.
Israeli occupation forces (IOF) have targeted residential buildings, schools, and hospitals for an entire week following a vow to turn Gaza into rubble. On Saturday, the IOF ordered medics at the Al-Awda Hospital in Jabalia to evacuate the facility within two hours despite it being at full capacity.
‘Right to self defence’
Ahead of the meeting in Doha, Israel ordered more than 1 million people in Gaza to move south within 24 hours and warned it would continue “to operate significantly”, triggering concerns of a looming ground invasion.
Speaking alongside Blinken, Sheikh Mohammed reiterated Qatar’s rejection of “the collective punishment that is not acceptable under any circumstances”.
“These condemnations must go to anyone who is involved in these matters,” Sheikh Mohammed affirmed.
Meanwhile, Blinken said the region is facing “a difficult but also consequential time” while further reiterating his support for what he had described as Israel’s right to self defence.
“As I said yesterday in Tel Aviv, Israel has the right – indeed, it has the obligation to defend its people[…]We recognise that many Palestinian families in Gaza are suffering through no fault of their own, and that Palestinian civilians have lost their lives,” Blinken said.
As Israel’s main ally, the US has pumped annually $3 billion into Tel Aviv’s economy, actively backing its government in carrying out alarming human rights violations against Palestinians. Since the start of the latest escalations in Gaza, the US has provided Israel with additional weaponry, used by the IOF to bombard Palestinians in Gaza.
More than 500 Palestinian children have been killed in the week-long Israeli operation.
Blinken said “Israel is conducting operations in Gaza because Hamas carried out terrorist attacks”, referring to last week’s unprecedented ‘Al Aqsa Flood’ operation, which the Palestinian faction described as a response to increasing Israeli aggression and attacks at the Al Aqsa holy site.
Blinked also accused Hamas of “slaughtering” and “raping” innocent civilians, including babies, echoing uncorroborated claims by US President Joe Biden and Israelis that have since been debunked.
The US official also appeared to dodge a question by a journalist in Doha who asked on Washington’s stance, as a democracy advocate, on the murder of children in Gaza.
“Israel has both the right and even the obligation to defend its people and to do everything it can to ensure that what happened last Saturday never happens again,” Blinken said.
“Civilians, of course, should not be the target of a military operation. They are not the target of Israeli operations. They are very deliberately the target of Hamas’s actions,” the Washington diplomat added.
Earlier this week, reports pointed to Qatar’s role in mediating for the release of Israeli hostages captured by Hamas during its surprise operation, the largest of its kind in modern history.
Responding to a question on the matter, Sheikh Mohammed maintained that “it is very early to judge” progress in the talks, citing “the intensity of the war right now”.
“We always hope that in order to get those hostages back. I think that the progress will be determined in the next few days hopefully, and we will see if there will be a positive prospect for that. But we are doing our best, our partners are doing their best in order to get them released safely,” the Qatari diplomat said.
Speaking alongside Sheikh Mohammed, Blinken said the US is “working intensively” with the Gulf state in order to secure the hostages, which include American citizens.
“I’m grateful for the urgency that Qatar is bringing to this effort. I had an opportunity to meet yesterday with the families of some of those being held hostage by Hamas. Their anguish is profound,” Blinken said, referring to his trip to Tel Aviv earlier this week.
While Qatar has taken on a crucial role to de-escalate the flare up in violence, Doha has been on the receiving end of attacks from western media in recent days.
Throughout the week, a number of German outlets engaged in what has been widely described as “a misinformation” campaign targeting the Gulf mediator. Numerous headlines by German media outlets, including Bild, have described Qatar’s leader as a billionaire that “finances terrorism”.
The reports were published during an official visit by Sheikh Tamim to Berlin on Thursday.
In one such report, German media outlet Zeit Online described Qatar’s leader as “the suspicious guest” and referenced its hosting of the Hamas political office.
In response to a question from the American press on whether Qatar would shut the Hamas office in Doha, Sheikh Mohammed said the bureau “is used to communicate with the movement and bring peace and tranquility.”
“We are keen that the only way to a peaceful solution is to keep all channels of communications open with all the relevant authorities to resolve this crisis,” Sheikh Mohammed told the press.
“I must stress here that Qatar’s commitment and its role as a partner in peacemaking and a mediator in reducing conflict should not be exploited to harm my country’s reputation through malicious accusations, the falsity of which previous experiences have proven,” Sheikh Mohammed added.