For Arab World, Hamas Is 'Legitimate Resistance Movement,' Not Terror Group, Qatar Says

'We do not support Hamas, we support Palestinian people,' says Qatar's foreign minister; Hamas praises comments as officials hold talks with Egypt, eye visit to Iran

Jack Khoury
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, shakes hands with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, Monday, May 8, 2017, at the State Department in Washington.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, shakes hands with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, Monday, May 8, 2017, at the State Department in Washington. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Jack Khoury

Though the United States and most of the world view Hamas as a terrorist group, for the Arab world it is a "legitimate resistance movement," Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said Saturday.

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“The U.S. views Hamas as a terror organization, but to the rest of the Arab nations it is a legitimate resistance movement. We do not support Hamas, we support the Palestinian people,” said Al Thani, who is currently in Moscow for talks with Russia.

Al Thani told told Russia Today this was also the position of the other Gulf states, and he wondered why Qatar was being singled out for its ties to the group.

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Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed ties with Qatar last week and accused it of sponsoring terrorism, including support of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Tuesday that Qatar needed to take several steps, including ending its support of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, to restore ties with other key Arab states.

Shortly after the break in ties emerged, Qatar confirmed that a number of top Hamas officials who were using the country as their base had left amid pressure on the oil-rich Gulf nation.

“Hamas’ presence in Qatar doesn’t mean there’s support for Hamas in Qatar," he said, adding that the nation “cooperates with the Palestinian Authority" to promite Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

"Hamas’ presence is a political representation of the Hamas movement,” he said, claiming the organization's leadership was “currently in Palestine” and not in Qatar.

Hamas has engaged with a number of Arab states in the past week, especially with Egypt. A delegation of Hamas officials – including the group's new leader, Yahya Sanwar, and the head of its Interior Ministry, Taufik Abu Naim – left the Gaza Strip for talks with Egyptian officials, including those in military intelligence, in Cairo.

According to reports in Hamas-affiliated media outlets, a number of issues pertaining to the defense of Gaza and Egypt's shared border were raised during these meetings. Easing the blockade on the Strip was also discussed, specifically in regard to the passage of goods and people through the Rafah crossing. Hamas said the meeting went well.

Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official, said over the weekend that although the meetings with the Egyptians were important, a delegation of Hamas officials was planning to depart for Tehran for meetings with top Iranian officials.

The delegation would include Ismail Haniyeh, the Gaza-based deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau.

If the meeting takes place, it will be the highest-ranking Hamas delegation to go to the Iranian capital in a number of years. Despite speculation about Tehran's plans to host Hamas' leader in exile, Khaled Meshal, the meeting never took place due to tensions over Iran and Hamas' respective positions on the Syrian civil war.

Hamas welcomed Al Thani’s statements and spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a short statement that the comments were an expression of the values and principles characteristic of a prestigious country like Qatar.

Qatar faces isolation by fellow Arab countries after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt severed ties with Doha Monday, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants and their adversary. Iran. Qatar denies the allegations.

The crisis is a major diplomatic test for the United States, which is a close ally of countries on both sides but has given mixed signals on whether to isolate Qatar or bring it into talks with other Gulf states.

Last Friday, Trump accused Qatar of being a "high level" sponsor of terrorism in remarks made shortly after his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, pushed Qatar's Arab neighbors to "immediately take steps to de-escalate the situation."

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