The emirate of Qatar has good relations with both Western governments and Hamas and has emerged as a key power in efforts to free hostages seized from Israel by the Palestinian Hamas group, while other states show their willingness to help.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday praised Qatar’s key role in Hamas’s release of two American hostages held since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, adding he was confident there would be further releases.
The West is increasingly using the influence of the small but gas-rich Gulf Arab state, a major global investor, in such situations, with Qatar’s role also crucial to the release of five Americans held by Iran last month.
While Egypt has traditionally served as the main mediator between Israel and Palestinian groups in recent years, and Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also made no secret of its desire to get involved, the focus is on Qatar helping with the safe return of the hostages.
“The most responsive mediator is Qatar,” said Hasni Abidi, director of the Geneva-based Center for Studies and Research on the Arab and Mediterranean World (CERMAM).
“She knows Hamas well and is its loyal financial supporter,” he said, referring to Doha’s funding of salaries for officials in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Qatar, which has hosted Hamas’ political office for more than a decade, is also respected by the United States, Israel’s main ally. The largest US military base in the region is located here.
– ‘Right Channels’ –
Israel says 203 people – Israelis, dual nationals and foreigners – were kidnapped by Hamas gunmen in the deadliest attacks in Israel’s 75-year history. According to the government, at least 1,400 people were killed, mostly civilians.
According to the Hamas government, Israel responded with a relentless bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip that killed at least 4,385 people, mostly civilians.
U.S. hostages Judith Tai Raanan and her daughter Natalie Shoshana Raanan were back in Israel late Friday, the Israeli government said.
“This is a very good result from the negotiators, in which Qatar played a very important role,” Macron told a group of reporters on Friday.
Macron said France wanted to carry out similar operations in the next “hours and days” to “continue to allow the hostages, especially our hostages, to escape.”
“We are confident: the channels we have are the right ones and useful,” he added. In a later message on X, formerly Twitter, Macron said Qatar played a “crucial role” in the release of the two American hostages.
Qatar is a “specialist in the release of hostages,” said Etienne Dignat from Sciences Po University in Paris and an expert on hostage-taking.
At Qatar, $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds were parked by South Korean banks until they were released as part of an extremely complex and sensitive swap deal involving the five American citizens held by Iran.
– “No collective negotiations” –
It appears to have been no coincidence that Macron’s envoy to Lebanon, former foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, a trusted confidant of the president on security issues, was in Qatar this week, according to diplomatic sources.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also visited Qatar this week on his marathon trip to the region.
“Qatar is playing a double game: it has relations both with terrorist groups and with certain Western nations that are indebted to it,” Dignat said.
The emirate had invited the Taliban to open an office in Doha with US approval, which made it possible to negotiate the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan in 2021, but this was followed by the Taliban’s return to power.
At the same time, other heavyweights in the region are trying to intervene.
Turkey has received “requests for help from several countries,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, his country’s former intelligence chief, in Beirut on Tuesday.
Erdogan has sought in recent months to improve relations with Israel, which had suffered after a series of bitter disputes in recent years. However, there is a risk that neither side will have confidence in Ankara.
And it was Egypt that contributed to the release in 2011 of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held by Hamas for more than five years.
Potential actors are “only those who have established long-standing relationships with Hamas and are therefore the only ones authorized to contact its leaders,” Abidi said.
But in this case, the unprecedented number of hostages held and the number of nationalities represented among them means there will be no single solution and diplomacy is likely to be arduous.
“There will be no collective negotiations,” Abidi said. Each state is called upon to negotiate the release of its own hostages.”
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