Qatar open to reconsidering Hamas presence in Qatar, US official says

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WASHINGTON, Oct 27 (Reuters) – Qatar told the U.S. it was open to reconsidering the presence of Hamas in Qatar once a crisis is resolved to secure the release of scores of hostages taken to Gaza by the Palestinian militant group, a senior U.S. official said on Friday. The understanding, first reported by the Washington Post, was reached at a meeting in Doha this month between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the official said. There was no immediate response from Qatari officials to the news on Friday. The tiny Gulf state, in coordination with the U.S., is leading mediation talks with Hamas and Israeli officials over the release of more than 200 hostages captured in the Palestinian group’s Oct. 7 cross-border attack. The wealthy gas-producer country has also been instrumental in negotiating with Hamas the safe passage of Americans stuck in Gaza and the opening of the border crossing with Egypt to allow humanitarian aid into the enclave under Israeli blockade. Its dialogue with Israel and Hamas brought about the release of four hostages, including two Israeli women on Monday. On Wednesday, Qatar’s prime minister said negotiations to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas were progressing and he was hopeful there would soon be a breakthrough. Qatar’s role and the Hamas presence in Qatar have faced criticism in Congress. A bipartisan group of 113 U.S. lawmakers on Oct. 16 sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to put pressure on countries who support Hamas, including Qatar. They asked that Qatar, a major non-NATO U.S. ally and a channel for U.S. dialogue with the Taliban since a U.S. pullout from Afghanistan, to expel Hamas leadership. “The country’s links to Hamas…are simply unacceptable,” the letter said. Hamas opened its political office in Doha in 2012 and several Hamas officials including the group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh and former head Khaled Meshaal regularly spend time in Doha. At an Oct. 13 joint press conference with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, Blinken said there could be “no more business as usual” with Hamas, when asked if the U.S. wanted Doha to shut Hamas’ political office. Sheikh Mohammed said then that the purpose of the political office was “to be as a way of communicating and delivering peace and calm to the region, not to instigate any war.” He said it was important to keep communication channels open. The United States issued sanctions this month aimed at disrupting funding for Hamas after its deadly attack in Israel, singling out people involved in its investment portfolio and a Gaza-based cryptocurrency exchange among other targets. Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, Egypt, the European Union, Israel and Japan. On Friday, Washington issued a second round of sanctions, including a Hamas official in Iran and members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as additional assets in Hamas investment portfolio and people facilitating sanctions evasion by Hamas-affiliated companies. Additional reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha, Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles. Acquire Licensing Rights, opens new tab Humeyra Pamuk Thomson Reuters Humeyra Pamuk is a senior foreign policy correspondent based in Washington DC. She covers the U.S. State Department, regularly traveling with U.S. Secretary of State. During her 20 years with Reuters, she has had postings in London, Dubai, Cairo and Turkey, covering everything from the Arab Spring and Syria’s civil war to numerous Turkish elections and the Kurdish insurgency in the southeast. In 2017, she won the Knight-Bagehot fellowship program at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. She holds a BA in International Relations and an MA on European Union studies.

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