Qatari PM says Israel and Hamas lack desire for new prisoner exchange

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani tells Doha Forum ‘opening is narrower’ for another Gaza deal

Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani addresses the Doha Forum on Sunday. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

Qatar is continuing its efforts to help arrange another prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel despite what is seen as a lack of willingness from both sides for any new deal, the Qatari Prime Minister said on Sunday.

“We're not seeing the same willingness that we had seen the weeks before … from both parties,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told the Doha Forum, an annual regional policy and global issues conference.

His remarks reflect the challenges facing the international community in curbing the war, after a temporary truce, in which Qatar played a major role, between Hamas and Israel was agreed two weeks ago.

"Right now, the opening, maybe, is narrower,” the Prime Minister said. "We will continue to pressure the parties despite each party aiming to destroy the other."

Last month's deal resulted in a pause in fighting, an increased but still restricted flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza and the freeing of 110 Israeli hostages, as well as more than 200 Palestinians from Israeli prisons.

Qatar is one of two Arab countries with influence in negotiations with Hamas, the militant group linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and supported by Iran, which took over Gaza from President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Liberation Organisation after the civil war in 2006-07.

The second Arab country with tangible influence over Hamas is Egypt, which borders Gaza, the main theatre of the war that started on October 7, with a surprise Hamas attack on southern Israel.

The Qatari Prime Minister said Israeli bombing of Gaza "is narrowing the window for us and exposing lives of Palestinians [and] the hostages themselves".

“Our efforts are continuing.”

Another 127 Israeli hostages taken by Hamas and other militants, are still thought to be in captivity. Hundreds of Palestinians detainees, imprisoned by Israel before October 7, remain incarcerated.

On Sunday, the Israeli public broadcaster Kan quoted Israeli officials as saying that the war could continue for another two months, followed by "localised" operations in the area.

Israel will allow some Gaza residents to return to their homes in the next two months, it reported, citing pressure from Washington, where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Arab foreign ministers on Sunday.

In Doha, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi said Mr Blinken heard a "very blunt message that the Arab priority is to stop the aggression and allow sufficient humanitarian supplies into Gaza and ensure the protection of civilians".

"We have to remember the conflict was not born on October 7, there is a historical context that needs to be addressed," Mr Al Safadi told the forum.

Jordan expelled the Hamas leadership in 1999, citing violations by the group that undermined the kingdom's national security. But since the current Gaza war broke out, Mr Al Safadi and other Jordanian officials have cautioned that Hamas cannot be destroyed, partly because it has popular support.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who was part of the panel in Doha, called for sanctions to be imposed on Israel, saying Washington should also be held responsible for the continuation of the war.

"Israel should be put on sanctions and not continue violating international law," he said, adding that Washington has "given the Israelis the green light to continue killing the Palestinians".

Updated: December 11, 2023, 6:41 AM