Breaking the country’s silence on media reports that Qatar had expelled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, Foreign Minister Dr. Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah has denied that the rumors are true.
Earlier this week, several publications including CNN reported that Meshaal, a Palestinian leader whose political party controls Gaza, was told to leave Doha, where he has lived for the past several years.
But speaking at a press conference yesterday, Al Attiyah said “Meshaal is a dear guest of Qatar” who “is living in his country and among his relatives.”
He later added that “the Palestinian issue is at the heart of Qatar’s foreign policy principles.”
The reports came at a time when Qatar is under pressure from its fellow Gulf states to reduce support for political Islamic groups and mend its ties with Egypt, which has a tense relationship with Hamas and has previously blamed it for attacks in the Sinai region.
Some analysts predicted Qatar’s efforts to repair its relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt would ultimately force it to ask Hamas to leave. But yesterday, Al Attiyah threw a wrench in that narrative.
Nevertheless, the Washington Post and London-based Asharq Al-Awsat both cited unnamed Hamas sources as saying the organization had been instructed to keep a lower profile in Qatar and avoid creating the impression that the country actively supports the Muslim Brotherhood, with is aligned with Hamas.
Many see Qatar as one of the largest financial backers of Hamas, although Al Attiyah rejected that suggestion over the summer and argued the country supports the Palestinian people and not a specific faction.
Leaders of Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, relocated their headquarters from Damascus to Doha in 2012 after siding with the forces fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
That same year, Qatar pledged $415 million to fund infrastructure development in the Gaza Strip, which is run by Hamas. More recently, Qatar helped fund the salaries of some 24,000 civil servants in Gaza.
Meanwhile, until a few months ago, Qatar was also home to several leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Several of its senior members announced they would be leaving Doha in September, although observers said the organization would continue to maintain a considerable presence in Qatar.
The move was seen by many as an effort by Qatar to resolve a dispute with neighboring Gulf states Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Both see the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to their authority and withdrew their ambassadors from Doha last year in a move widely interpreted as a public rebuke for Qatar’s support of the organization.