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Conflicting reports over Qatar expulsion of Hamas leader Mashaal

Israel’s Foreign Ministry yesterday praised Qatar for apparently deporting Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to Turkey. The expulsion, which Hamas denies, comes as Qatar looks to repair ties with much of the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates all recalled their ambassadors from Qatar in March in protest at Qatari support for Islamist groups, including Hamas. However, the rift appeared to be mended several weeks ago and was quickly followed by a rapprochement between Egypt and Qatar. Last month, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with an envoy of the Emir of Qatar in Cairo at the behest of Saudi Arabia. At the end of the meeting, al-Sisi said he “looked forward to turning the page on past differences.” Egypt had been particularly unhappy at Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which opposes al-Sisi’s rule.

Qatar has in recent years also been an important financial backer for Hamas. However, Egypt considers Hamas a close ally of the Muslim Brotherhood and effectively an enemy of the state. Mashaal’s expulsion from Qatar would therefore be another indication of warming Qatari ties with Egypt and Gulf states. Mashaal has been based in Qatar since 2011, when he was forced to leave Damascus after failing to support President Assad in the context of Syria’s Civil War. He had previously been expelled from Jordan.

Turkish newspaper Aydinlik was the first to report Mashaal’s expulsion on Sunday, siting pressure from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. The story was then covered by CNN which said that Mashaal had been deported alongside a number of Muslim Brotherhood members. Yesterday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry congratulated Qatar on its decision and claimed it had “advanced various moves to cause Qatar to carry out this step and stop aiding Hamas.” The statement also called on “the Turkish government to now follow suit.”

However, Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq was adamant, telling social media, “There is no truth to reports by certain media concerning the departure of Khaled Mashaal from Qatar.”