Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas denied on Tuesday reports that its leader, Khaled Mashaal, had been expelled from Qatar.
Turkish newspaper Aydinlik reported that Mashaal was planning to move to Ankara after Qatar asked him to leave Doha.
Izzat al-Risheq, a senior Hamas official, said the reports were “baseless and untrue.”
Qatar has faced immense pressure from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to deport Mashaal, the Turkish paper said.
Sources close to Hamas told CNN that Mashaal and members of the Muslim Brotherhood had been expelled from Qatar, and were most likely on the way to Turkey.
Recently Qatar pledged to expel exiled leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The pledge was made in the context of rapprochement between Qatar and Egypt.
Qatar agreed to stop attacking Egypt through the Doha-based Al Jazeera TV network.
Although Qatar has not commented on the reports concerning the expulsion of Mashaal, sources in Doha told a number of Arab media outlets that they were unaware of any decision to deport the Hamas chief.
Amid the conflicting reports, the Foreign Ministry – upon instructions from Minister Avigdor Liberman’s office – issued a statement praising the move.
According to the statement, the Foreign Ministry over the past year has taken a number of direct and indirect measures, which it did not specify, designed to get Qatar to expel Mashaal and cut off support to Hamas. Liberman and others in the ministry worked through both open and discrete channels with Qatar and other states to bring about this move, the statement said.
Regarding reports that Turkey will give the Hamas leader refuge, the Foreign Ministry statement said, “We expect that the Turkish government will act in a similar manner” as Qatar.
In August, a senior diplomatic official told The Jerusalem Post that Israel has not opened a full-court diplomatic campaign against Qatar for aiding and abetting Hamas, because of concern that the closeness of US-Qatar ties would render such a campaign futile. Qatar is home to the US Central Command’s Forward Headquarters and the Combined Air Operations Center, and is the location of three US air bases, including the largest one in the Middle East.
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought this issue up repeatedly in recent months with US officials and other world leaders, and Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor wrote an op-ed in The New York Times calling Qatar the “Club Med for Terrorists.”
Prosor wrote in August that it was “time for the world to wake up and smell the gas fumes. Qatar has spared no cost to dress up its country as a liberal, progressive society, yet at its core, the micro monarchy is aggressively financing radical Islamist movements.”
He called for the international community to isolate the country.
Liberman, in an August interview with the Post, cautioned against exaggerating the leverage Qatar has over the terrorist organization. Qatar was hosting Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Doha, and funding them handsomely, to ensure that they only operate outside its borders, Liberman said. He characterized this as Qatar paying for protection from the terrorist organization.
“It is paying protection money in order to ensure security and quiet and calm inside Qatar, so they would work only outside,” he said. “I don’t know how much they are able to influence Hamas. I think Hamas has more influence on Qatar than Qatar does on Hamas.”