The war between Hamas and Israel tests Qatar's mediating power and diplomatic balance | International

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Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and the leader of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, Ismail Haniya, during a meeting in Doha, Qatar, this Saturday.IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY / HANDO (EFE)

The attack by the armed wing of the Palestinian movement Hamas on Israeli territory on October 7 – including the taking of more than a hundred hostages and the subsequent bombing campaign and total siege by Israel on the Gaza Strip – has once again placed in the center of the spotlight of world diplomacy to Qatar, a small but powerful Arab State in the Persian Gulf with a long history as an intermediary and mediator in the region.

Guided by its ambitious foreign policy, Qatar has for years been acting as a discreet liaison point for the United States and other Western countries to open negotiation channels with countries or non-state actors with which it does not maintain diplomatic relations. In the case of the conflict between Palestine and Israel, Doha is in a privileged position because it has close ties with Washington, Hamas and Iran, one of the main supporters of the Palestinian movement. Israel has also for years allowed Qatar to channel funds to Gaza to help stabilize the humanitarian situation in the Strip, and in the past Doha has participated in mediating truces between Hamas and Tel Aviv.

Despite being a trusted mediator, the recent Hamas attack on Israeli territory has also put Qatar's relations with the Palestinian movement under the spotlight. In this sense, Doha has regularly channeled funds to Gaza for five years to alleviate its humanitarian crisis, and although it has done so with Israel's approval, the economic aid has also given oxygen to Hamas. In addition, the group's leader, Ismail Haniya, resides much of the time in Doha, and his political bureau has an office in the same city. In the last week, other heavyweights of the movement, such as its former leader Khaled Meshaal, have called for a general mobilization for the Palestinian cause from Qatar. And Doha hosted a meeting on Saturday between Haniya and Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian to “continue cooperation,” according to Hamas.

On this occasion, Doha has tried from the beginning to stop the scale of violence in Gaza and its surroundings, with the aim of achieving a cessation of hostilities that prevents an expansion of the conflict in the region, as acknowledged on Friday by the prime minister and The country's Foreign Minister, Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, at a joint press conference with the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, in Doha. Among his priorities is negotiating the opening of a humanitarian aid corridor to Gaza through the Rafah border crossing, which connects the Strip with Egypt and is the only one not controlled by Israel, as well as an agreement to release the hostages held by of Hamas.

Negotiate to free hostages

Regarding this last point, Al Thani noted during his appearance on Friday that it is still "too early to judge" the progress of the negotiations by the "intensity of the war." At the moment, efforts are focused on agreeing to the release of kidnapped Israeli women and children in exchange for the release of Palestinian women and children in Israeli prisons, as reported by the Reuters agency. Qatar has been able to negotiate other complex hostage release deals in the past in contexts such as Iraq and Afghanistan, although Hamas is now believed to be holding around 150 people.

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During their joint appearance in Doha, Blinken assured that during his tour of the region he has “made it clear” that relations with Hamas cannot continue “as if nothing had happened.” Al Thani, however, hinted that Qatar is not considering closing the Hamas political bureau office in the country, saying that it “began to be used as a means of communication and to bring peace and calm to the region.”

Over the last week, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has maintained intense diplomatic activity and has spoken with other leaders in the region with influence over the warring parties, such as the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattá. Al Sisi, and the president of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi. His prime minister and foreign minister have also been in close contact with his Iranian counterpart, Amirabdollahian, as part of the latter's regional tour.

Doha has condemned attacks on civilians and collective punishment by “all parties involved equally.” But in its first statement after the Hamas attack and Tel Aviv's initial reaction, the Qatari Foreign Ministry assured that Israel is "solely responsible" for the escalation due to "its continued violations of the rights of the Palestinian people." Doha also reiterated its “firm stance” regarding the Palestinian cause and “the legitimate rights” of the Palestinian people, including the establishment of an independent state.

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