Apology to Qatar PM for ‘Israel visit’ claims

A London-based Arabic newspaper has apologised to Qatar’s Prime Minister for articles falsely alleging that he had secretly visited Israel.

Saudi-owned daily Asharq Al-Awsat published three reports about Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani’s trip to an Arab foreign ministers’ conference in Beirut during the Lebanon conflict in August 2006.

They claimed he had held discussions with Israeli ministers en route to the conference, briefing them on the Arab position.

On Monday, the paper admitted that the allegations were untrue and apologised at the High Court in London “for any embarrassment” caused.

Flight records presented to the court proved Sheikh Hamad had flown directly to Beirut from Damascus.

Sheikh Hamad’s solicitor, Cameron Doley, said: “It is an unequivocal victory. Allegations of that nature at that time could have been damaging to him and Qatar.

“The paper has accepted that it got it wrong. My client is happy with that — there was never anything more in it for him than getting that admission.”

When Sheikh Hamad denied the allegations in the first story, Asharq Al-Awsat printed a second article, accusing him of lying. A third piece, written by the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, repeated the claims.

In its apology, the paper accepted that “Sheikh Hamad did not hold secret discussions with the Israeli government en route to the Beirut Conference”.

An Israeli Embassy spokesman said: “It is not a secret that the Qatari government has diplomatic relations with Israel.”

Last updated: 11:56am, July 24 2008