The Israeli government claims Qatar expelled the leader of Hamas, in what would be a significant diplomatic victory for Israel. Hamas officials, however, denied the claims as “baseless”.
The Israeli foreign ministry issued a statement saying it welcomed “Qatar’s decision to expel the head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Mashaal, to Turkey.” It said the Qatari decision came after heavy diplomatic pressure from Israel. “We expect the Turkish government to act responsibly in a similar way.”
Hamas officials in Qatar and Gaza angrily dismissed the Israeli claims. Izzat Rishq, a top aide to Mr Mashaal, said the claim was wrong. “There is no basis of truth about brother Khaled Mashaal leaving Doha. We are in Doha now,” he said.
A Hamas spokesman, Hossam Badran, in Qatar and Salah Bardawil, a Hamas official in Gaza, also said the report was false. Turkey said it had no information on a Qatari decision or plans by Mr Mashaal to relocate to Turkey. Israel and Hamas, an Islamic militant group sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state, are bitter enemies. They fought a 50-day war last summer that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians in Gaza and 72 people on the Israeli side.
An expulsion would mark a major setback for Hamas. In recent years, Hamas has faced growing isolation in the region after disputes with its long-time sponsors, Syria and Iran, and the downfall of its close ally, the former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
Mr Mashaal moved to Qatar after the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011. Facing diplomatic isolation and financial problems, Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, reluctantly agreed to the formation of a unity government led by its rival, President Mahmoud Abbas, last year.