Qatar-based Hamas leaders pressured over Biden's Gaza ceasefire plan

Officials told they could face expulsion from the Gulf nation and face restrictions if the militant faction did not show flexibility

Palestinians flee Rafah due to an Israeli military operations in the southern Gaza Strip city. Reuters
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Hamas leaders living in exile in Doha are under growing Qatari pressure to accept US proposals to end the Gaza war, sources close to the negotiations told The National on Friday.

The Palestinian group officials were told that they could face expulsion from the Gulf nation and face restrictions if the militant faction did not show flexibility.

The sources said the warnings were verbally delivered to the Hamas leadership, including political leader Ismail Haniyeh, during a stormy meeting in Doha on Wednesday with chief Qatari and Egyptian mediators. The meeting came after CIA director William Burns's visit.

The warnings, according to the sources, also included the freezing of Hamas assets outside Palestinian territories.

Hamas, which has solely ruled Gaza since 2007, is designated a terrorist organisation by the US, EU and Israel.

The sources said the meeting, during which the warnings were delivered, was one of three held in Doha on Wednesday.

The first meeting brought together Mr Burns, his Egyptian counterpart Abbas Kamel and Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdurrahman Al Thani. The second and third meetings were between the Egyptian and Qatari mediators, as well as Hamas officials.

“The second meeting is the one when the threats were delivered, participants raised their voices and tension was very high,” said one of the sources.

Late on Wednesday night, they said, a message from Hamas’s leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar vowed that Hamas would continue fighting until the group's conditions are met.

However, a Hamas source close to the negotiations downplayed the warnings, saying that the threat of expulsion is untrue and part of a "deliberate media campaign" against the group.

“We see this as part of a media pressure campaign on Hamas waged by the United States to pressure us into accepting the American and Israeli conditions in the proposals,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Sources in Doha also denied exerting pressure on any parties in the negotiations.

"Qatar plays the role of a neutral mediator and does not exert pressure on any party but works to bring perspectives closer together," the sources told The National.

"Qatar has hosted a political office for Hamas since 2012, in agreement with the United States, and has consistently facilitated mediation between Israelis and Palestinians. This role continues as long as it is useful and positive for resolving the conflict," they added.

The latest proposals to end the war in Gaza – which reached the eight-month mark on Friday – were announced by President Joe Biden on May 31. The proposals were also contained in a draft UN Security Council resolution distributed on Monday by the US.

The proposals lay out a three-phase plan, which Mr Biden said was an Israeli initiative.

They involve a six-week “full and complete ceasefire,” the release of hostages held by Hamas in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli jails and the return of the displaced to their homes across the coastal enclave.

It says a permanent ceasefire in Gaza would be subject to agreement between the concerned parties.

Hamas has yet to officially respond to the proposals, but the sources already said the militant group wanted a clear and firm commitment in writing by Israel that a permanent ceasefire would come into force as soon as the six-week phase ends.

Hamas's unhappiness with the current terms of the US proposals was evident in a brief statement released by the group on Wednesday night.

“The [Hamas] movement and resistance factions will deal positively and seriously with any agreement based on the complete cessation of the [Israeli] aggression, full withdrawal and an exchange of prisoners,” said the statement, attributed to Mr Haniyeh.

Hamas has long feared that Israel, in the absence of a firm commitment to a permanent ceasefire, would resume its military operations in Gaza when all the hostages are released.

Israel for its part has repeatedly said the war would not end until Hamas’s military and governing capabilities are wiped out.

Mr Burns has countered Hamas's condition that Israel makes a firm commitment to a permanent ceasefire by offering a guarantee that negotiations on a permanent ceasefire would begin as soon as the first six-week phase of the plan ends, the sources said.

Since last October, the Gaza war has had a single truce. It lasted a week and ended on December 1. Since then, mediators from the US, Egypt, and Qatar have been trying without success to broker another one.

The Gaza war was triggered by a Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 that left about 1,200 killed and saw the militants capture about 240 hostages they took back to Gaza.

The attack, the deadliest in one day since Israel was created in 1948, drew a devastating Israeli response that has to date killed more than 36,600 Palestinians and wounded more than twice that number. Most of the territory’s 2.3 million residents have been displaced and large swathes of built-up areas laid to waste.

Updated: June 07, 2024, 4:49 PM