Israeli liaison minister gives Qatar mixed review on Hamas

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An Israeli official who has coordinated with Qatar on aid to the Palestinians credited it on Friday with trying to prevent the funds reaching Hamas, but accused it of still “flirting” with the militant group.

Qatar says Israel’s blessing for the some $800 million in civilian relief funds it has funneled to the war-ravaged Gaza Strip counters suspicions it backs Hamas, which has de facto control of the enclave but is shunned by Israel and the West.

“If we are helping Hamas, do you think the Israelis (would) allow us to go inside and come out?” Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi told Reuters during a Feb. 22 visit to Jerusalem, where he said he had met Israel’s regional cooperation minister.

Confirming that meeting on Friday, the minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, described it as part of a bid “to expand our diplomatic horizon with Middle East states that, for practical and formal reasons, cannot have above-the-radar relations” with Israel.

The Qataris, he told Tel Aviv radio station 102 FM, “are endeavoring hugely to ensure their aid does not end up as any Hamas force build-up”.

In distress

“We know this, we supervise this and we approve this, because they really are doing construction - the construction of neighborhoods.”

Asked whether Qatar might be using its contacts with Israel for “public relations”, Hanegbi said: “They are in distress, as most of the countries in the Arab world boycott them because they flirt too much with terrorism, with Hamas, with all kinds of episodes that border on subversion.”

Hanegbi said he was surprised that the Qatari envoy had disclosed their talks: “Usually there is an agreement that a meeting of this kind remains secret. But they (the Qataris) decided (to publicize it) and that’s their prerogative.”