Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's visit to Qatar has drawn sharp criticism from some Arabs, who responded by boycotting the 8th annual Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade. On the other hand, Hamas leaders who have long maintained close ties with Qatar stopped short of criticizing the visit. The critics see the visit as part of Israel's attempts to normalize relations with the Arab countries - a move that hardliners in the Arab world strongly oppose. They argue that any normalization with Israel should be preceded by a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hizbullah's allies in Lebanon and Syria were among the first to condemn Livni's participation in the conference, saying it constituted a "severe blow" to all Arabs and Muslims. "The presence of the Zionist minister in Qatar is a spit in the face of all Arabs and Muslims, particularly the Palestinians," said a Lebanese member of parliament who is closely associated with Hizbullah. "The Qataris made a huge mistake by inviting a Zionist to the meeting." Former Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, who is also affiliated with Hizbullah, said he decided to boycott the conference when he heard that Livni was attending. Former Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, head of the Shi'ite Amal movement, also decided to stay away because of Livni's presence. Berri was scheduled to address the conference and hold talks with Qatari government officials on the ongoing political crisis in Lebanon. Iran, which was supposed to be represented at the conference by former President Muhammad Khatami, strongly condemned the presence of Livni in Doha. Khatami has also decided to boycott the meeting in protest. In Teheran, a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry described Livni's presence in Qatar as a "violation of democracy." He said the participation of an Israeli official at the conference "does not only hinder the Palestinian people's efforts to achieve their rights, but also harms the interests of the Islamic world." The spokesman pointed out that Livni's visit to Qatar "comes at a time when Israel has intensified its aggression against the Palestinians and is continuing to impose a siege on the Gaza Strip." The visit, he continued, "mocks the Islamic values and will pave the way for further violation of Palestinian rights." In Ramallah, Palestinian Authority officials told The Jerusalem Post that they too were unhappy with Livni's visit to Qatar. They also noted that the visit came at a time when Israel was continuing to launch attacks on the Gaza Strip. Relations between the PA and Qatar have been strained following allegations that the oil-rich Gulf country has been supporting Hamas financially and politically. A PA official said that Qatar's close ties with Hamas have long worried the PA leadership in Ramallah. "The Qataris are on the one hand inviting Livni to Doha, and on the other hand supporting Hamas," he added. "It's time for Qatar to make up its mind whose side it is on." Another official pointed out that the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera network has long been "inciting" against the PA leadership and providing a platform for Hamas and other radical Islamic groups. "Al-Jazeera's main goal is to undermine the moderate Arabs and bolster Hamas and Hizbullah," he charged. Despite the criticism, the PA sent a junior official to the conference - Jawad Naji, an adviser to Prime Minister Salaam Fayad.