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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Qatar offered Israel deal to stop Gaza protests: report

Israeli diplomat reveals approach by Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani's intermediaries

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani reportedly offered a Israel a deal to stop Gaza protests. Reuters
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani reportedly offered a Israel a deal to stop Gaza protests. Reuters

Qatar approached Israel to offer a deal to prevent protests in Gaza during the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem in May, an Israeli diplomat has revealed.

The proposed "package deal" involving Israel, Egypt and the US was put forward by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani through two of his confidants, French Jewish businessman Philippe Solomon and Rabbi Avraham Moyal, according to Carmel Shama-Hacohen, the former Israeli ambassador to Unesco.

Mr Shama-Hacohen told Israel's Channel 10 last week that the two men gave him a letter from Qatari minister suggesting the deal with the Hamas group that controls Gaza, and claiming that its leaders including Ismail Haniyeh had agreed to it. He said he relayed the message to the Israeli government, but Qatar's suggestion of a phone call between its emir and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was rejected and Israel instead asked for a written proposal from the Qataris.

Mr Solomon and Rabbi Moyal carried the Qatari proposal to Jerusalem. According to Mr Shama-Hacohen, he read the letter and informed Mr Netanyahu's office of its contents. A representative of Israel's national security adviser who was sent to meet the Qatari envoys demanded to read it as well, but Rabbi Moyal insisted that it could only be seen by the prime minister himself. Ultimately, the letter never reached Mr Netanyahu.

According to the Channel 10 report, the Qatari deal offered investments in Gaza's infrastructure in exchange for Hamas ending the weekly protests staged along the territory's border with Israel since March.

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At least 185 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire during the protests, including a man shot east of Gaza City on Friday, and thousands have been wounded. More than 60 of the deaths occurred during protests as the US embassy was opened in Jerusalem on May 14, the eve of Nakba Day commemorating the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the creation of Israel in 1948.

Qatar has strong ties with Hamas and is reportedly party to ongoing negotiations, along with Egypt, for a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel that could ease the decade-old blockade of the Palestinian territory. However Egypt is Israel's preferred intermediary and has successfully resolved previous flare-ups in violence between the two sides.

Qatar maintains publicly that it has no diplomatic ties or contact with Israel, but the account by Mr Shama-Hacohen is the latest of recent reports to give lie to Doha's claims.

In August the Israeli news site Walla quoted an Israeli official as confirming that Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman had held a secret meeting with the Qatari foreign minister during a visit to Cyprus in June.

The report drew strong criticism of Qatar from the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash, who said Doha was spreading rumours about its neighbours establishing ties with Israel while doing so itself.

“It’s strange that Qatar and its media who spread rumours about its neighbours' attempts to normalise relations with Israel, while there is documented evidence that Doha has been in direct contact with officials in Tel Aviv on the issue of Gaza," Dr Gargash said.