Text size

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has decided not to attend an international conference in Qatar Sunday due to the expected participation of a Hamas delegation in the event.

Livni was invited to represent Israel at the UN-sponsored sixth International Conference on New or Restored Democracies in Doha. She had hoped to take advantage of her first visit to a Gulf state to strengthen Israel's ties with moderate Arab states. It was to be the most high-profile visit by an Israeli official to the Gulf state in 10 years.

Livni had learned previously that delegations from both the Palestinian parliament and from Hamas had been invited to the conference. After the Israeli representation in Qatar was informed that Hamas officials had accepted the invitation, Livni made the decision Saturday not to attend, three days after announcing her plans to travel to the Gulf state.

Israel has low-level relations with Qatar and maintains a trade representation office in Doha. Last month Livni met with Qatar's Foreign Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani, at the UN General Assembly.

Sunday's conference will include speeches by many foreign ministers from Arab and European countries, as well as working meetings on strengthening democracy.

Livni will be the most senior Israeli official to visit Qatar since then-prime minister Shimon Peres traveled there in 1996.

The Gulf state has a unique relationship with Israel, and left its Israeli liaison office open throughout the intifada.

The Qatari foreign minister met with Livni at the UN General Assembly last month and visited Gaza last week in an effort to advance a prisoner swap and secure the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit.