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Israel Minister Says Qatar Untrustworthy as Broker for Hamas

(Bloomberg) -- Israel’s economy minister said he doesn’t trust Qatar to act as a mediator with Hamas as cease-fire talks that could also see the release of hostages held in Gaza remain deadlocked.

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“They’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Nir Barkat told Bloomberg TV on Thursday, referring to Qatar and accusing the Gulf country of “funding terror all over the world.”

It was unclear from his comments if Barkat, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, was expressing the government’s official stance or speaking personally. The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs hit back in a post on X, with spokesman Majed Al-Ansari describing Barkat’s comments as “lies and baseless accusations” that demonstrate “political recklessness and selfishness.”

The Gulf state has for years hosted some political leaders of Hamas, which is backed by Iran and designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union. It’s played a key role in mediating talks between Israel and Hamas since their war erupted on Oct. 7 and secured the release of some hostages.

Qatar has said that the Hamas political office in Doha was opened in 2012 “after a request from Washington to establish indirect lines of communication with Hamas.”

Qatar has been a close ally to the US and is home to the Middle East’s biggest US military base. It was also instrumental in the evacuation of tens of thousands of people including US soldiers and foreign nationals from Afghanistan in 2021 after the US abruptly withdrew its forces from there.

It has not only emerged as an influential political player in the region, but also become a key supplier of liquefied natural gas to Europe, replacing some Russian piped supplies after Moscow invaded Ukraine in 2022.

Recent talks in Qatar about a cease-fire and release of more hostages broke down, with some Israeli officials privately saying Doha wasn’t putting enough pressure on Hamas. Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said on Wednesday that the negotiations were deadlocked over the return of displaced people to their homes in Gaza.

The talks have since moved to Cairo, though those have also stalled, Bloomberg reported earlier on Thursday. Barkat said he trusts Egypt, a country with which Israel has formal diplomatic ties. Qatar and Israel don’t recognize each other, though they’ve shared intelligence for years.

Barkat, 64, made a fortune in high tech before entering politics, winning election as mayor of Jerusalem in 2008. He’s made clear his ambition to lead the Likud party and run for prime minister but has been careful not to challenge Netanyahu directly, saying he’s waiting for him to step down. He’s had disagreements with Netanyahu over the budget and an effort last year to overhaul the judiciary.

--With assistance from Galit Altstein, Fiona MacDonald, Dana Khraiche and Sherif Tarek.

(Updates with comment from Qatar foreign affairs ministry in fourth paragraph.)

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