Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat—A senior member of Hamas denied that Doha has asked the group’s leader Khaled Mishal to leave the small Gulf state, but admitted on Tuesday that the Qatari government had “shifted its political orientation” towards the group.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, a leading Hamas member said: “Hamas was asked at least not to engage in any high-profile political activities that may be interpreted as Qatar still supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly after the Egyptian–Qatari reconciliation.”
The group’s denials follow reports that its exiled leader had been asked to leave Qatar on Tuesday, with unconfirmed reports saying Mishal has relocated to Turkey, a staunch backer of Hamas and its parent group, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Speculation has grown over the potential expulsion of Hamas from Doha after the recent rapprochement between Egypt and Qatar. Ties between the two countries have deteriorated recently over claims that the Gulf state is backing the Brotherhood, which was removed from power by the Egyptian military in mid-2013 following mass public protests.
Qatar was also accused by Egypt and fellow Gulf states of hosting Hamas members who had strong links with Egypt’s former Islamist rulers. In response to pressure from Gulf Cooperation Council members, Doha expelled seven members of Brotherhood in September last year, and is expected to impose new controls on members of the organization still in the country, according to some observers.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, a leading Hamas figure in Doha, Hossam Badran, dismissed reports that Mishal had left Qatar. He said: “We will stay in Doha and there will be no changes” to the group’s political representation in the Gulf state.
In contrast, the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday it “welcomes Qatar’s decision to expel the head of the Hamas Political Bureau, Khaled Mishal, to Turkey,” claiming the step came after heavy diplomatic pressure from Tel Aviv.
CNN quoted on Tuesday a source from what it said was a Hamas-run news agency saying that Mishal and other Islamist leaders were on their way to Turkey.
According to analysts, if the reports are accurate Hamas will likely have to choose between between Tehran, Ankara and Khartoum, the remaining regional capitals that still maintain strong links to the group, as its new home. Ankara remains the most likely destination for Hamas’s leader for several reasons, including the differences in views between Hamas’s leadership and Tehran over Syria and the nature of the conflict between the region’s Sunnis and Shi’ites, among others.
Mishal was forced to relocate from his previous base, Damascus, in February 2012, as the Syrian crisis deteriorated and Hamas became increasingly disenchanted with the response of the Syrian government to the uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad.
Mirza Al-Khuwaylidi contributed reporting from Dammam