Sheikh Mohammed confirmed to the press that efforts to release captives are ongoing and warned against “counterproductive” media leaks.
Qatar and the European Union discussed efforts to reach a ceasefire in Gaza as well as recent updates in negotiations to release captives on Sunday, as the war on the besieged Strip continues to intensify without a truce in sight.
The discussions took place in Doha between Qatar’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell.
The top EU official’s visit was announced last week as part of the bloc’s scramble for a pause in the war in Gaza, where more than 12,000 Palesinians have been killed.
Speaking to the press at the Diwan Annex in Msheireb, Sheikh Mohammed said discussions with Borrell dealt with “reaching a lasting and peaceful solution to this crisis in all its political and humanitarian dimensions.”
“Our top priority is an immediate ceasefire and all retaliatory operations and indiscriminate attacks on the Gaza Strip,” Sheikh Mohammed told the press alongside Borrell.
The EU official also expressed his appreciation for Qatar’s “constructive role” throughout the war, referring to Doha’s diplomatic work to negotiate the release of captives as part of wider de-escalation efforts.
“I appreciate a lot the constructive role that Qatar is playing as a regional power with much capacity in fostering peace and stability,” Borrell said.
Sheikh Mohammed also shed light on the crippling Israeli siege on Gaza as well as the forced displacement of Palestinians, which he said constitute flagrant violations of international law.
“Our world today is witnessing the occupation army openly bragging about destroying hospitals and forcing the sick, wounded, doctors and displaced people to leave at gunpoint and justifying this with unproven claims,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
The top Qatari official was referring to Saturday’s forced displacement of hundreds of civilians, medics and patients from Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza during an Israeli raid on the health facility.
Al Shifa, the largest hospital in Gaza, has been receiving non-stop threats since the start of the war with Israel alleging the presence of Hamas fighters in the building despite numerous independent investigations debunking such claims.
More recently, the BBC and CNN found Israeli occupying forces had tampered with videos of alleged Hamas weapons at the hospital as part of Israel’s attempts to ‘prove’ the presence of Palestinian resistance fighters.
Sheikh Mohammed slammed raid on the hospital as part of the “farcical theatrics of the occupation.”
“What happened in the Al-Shifa Complex is a crime, and unfortunately we did not hear a voice of condemnation from the international community,” he said, noting that there has been a double standard approach towards the war in Gaza.
The EU itself has failed to condemn the forced evacuation of Palestinians from Gaza’s hospitals. Last week, the bloc instead backed Israel’s allegations against Hamas and condemned “the use of hospitals and civilians as human shields” by the group.
The European bloc has also been calling for a “pause” rather than a complete ceasefire in Gaza, echoing similar statements made by Israel’s key allies, namely the United States.
In Doha, Borrell called for “immediate, urgent and sustainable humanitarian truces” while stressing the need to implement the decisions of the United Nations’ Security Council on the matter.
“I want to remind you that the decisions of the Security Council are not just words, they have to be implemented, but these resolutions have not been implemented, not yet[…]too many lives are being lost everyday,” he said.
He added: “Palestinians deserve dignity. Israel deserves security. Both deserve prosperous lives in peace and safety in the same land.”
Captives release talks
Doha has been the go-to mediator since Hamas’ operation ‘Al-Aqsa Flood’ on October 7, in which the Palestinian resistance fighters infiltrated occupied territories through air, land and sea and returned to Gaza with 242 captives.
Qatar, the host of a Hamas political bureau, has so far managed to release four captives from Hamas before Israel intensified its bombardment of Gaza and obstructed the talks.
Sheikh Mohammed confirmed to the press that efforts are ongoing and warned against “counterproductive” media leaks.
“We have seen reports here and there in the last few weeks unfortunately throughout the negotiations and it’s really not helping, or counterproductive to see leaks about the negotiations coming out in the media before sealing the deal,” he said.
The Qatari official added: “I think that I’m now more confident that we are close enough to reach a deal that can bring the people back safely to their homes, whether they are the hostages on the Hamas side or whatever the exchange that will take place from the Israeli side.”
Sheikh Mohammed’s remarks were in response to a question regarding a Saturday report by The Washington Post that claimed negotiators had reached a tentative agreement on the release of captives.
The proposed arrangement included a five-day pause in fighting to enable the release of an initial batch of 50 or more captives in smaller groups every 24 hours. However, National US Security Council Spokeswoman Adrienne Watson denied the claims.
“We have not reached a deal yet, but we continue to work hard to get to a deal,” Watson stated.
A source familiar with the matter also confirmed to Doha News that no deal has yet been reached.
The US has been scrambling to secure the release of more captives from Hamas and has sent a number of its envoys to the region in hopes of reaching a breakthrough in negotiations.
US President Joe Biden’s senior Middle East adviser Brett McGurk is scheduled to visit Qatar on Sunday as part of a regional tour. The top US envoy was in Bahrain on Saturday where he highlighted that the release of captives would lead to a “significant pause” in the war and a substantial increase in humanitarian aid.
“The surge in humanitarian relief, the surge in fuel, the pause… will come when hostages are released,” he said.