The Qatari government expelled Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal to Turkey, after hosting him in exile since he left Syria at the start of the civil war, CNN reported on Tuesday.
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Aside from Meshal, members of the Muslim Brotherhood were also expelled, a move which followed a Saudi initiative to strengthen ties between Qatar and Egypt, CNN reported. The Palestinian news agency Ma'an cited Turkish media as saying that Meshal discussed the possibility of relocating to Ankara in his recent meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, after the Qatari government asked him to leave the country.
The Israel Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem praised Qatar, saying in a statement: "We congratulate the Qatari decision, and expect the Turkish government will now do the same."
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and others in his ministry "pushed over the last few years a number of processes in both covert and overt channels with Qatar itself and other nations to bring about the situation in which Qatar would take such a step and halt its assistance to Hamas, both directly and indirectly," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon said.
Hamas, meanwhile, denied the reports that Meshal had been expelled. "There is no truth to what some media outlets have published over the departure by brother Khaled Meshaal from Doha," Hamas official Ezzat al-Rishq told Reuters by telephone. Another Hamas source confirmed that Meshal was still in Doha and has no plans to leave the country.
About two weeks ago, Meshal made a surprise appearance at an event held by Turkey's governing party AKP, in which he praised the Turkish leadership and called for greater Turkish-Palestinian co-operation in the "fight to liberate Jerusalem."
"A strong Turkey means a strong Palestine ... Inshallah, God is with us and with you on the road to victory," Meshal told the crowd, many of whom were waving the Turkish and Palestinian flags.
The U.S. and Israel consider Hamas, which controls Gaza, a terror group. A European Union court, accepting a Hamas petition, recently ordered the bloc to take the group off its terrorist list but allowed the EU to appeal.
Qatar has denied supporting terror groups. In September Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani denied that his country funded terrorism and pledged support for the fight against Islamic State.
"We don't fund extremists," he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "If you talk about certain movements, especially in Syria and Iraq, we all consider them" terrorist.
But he said "some countries and some people" consider "any group which comes from Islamic background [terrorists]. And we don't accept that."
At the same time, support by Qatar, a major worldwide energy producer, for Hamas and other militant organizations has been well documented.