Senior Hamas members have been ordered by the authorities in Qatar to leave Doha. They include Saleh al-Arouri, the operative in charge of directing operations of Hamas terror cells in the West Bank, and Musa Dudin, who was involved in similar work.
While the Qataris have not officially announced the expulsions and Hamas has denied the reports, it seems the Emirate is trying to minimise its overt connections to terror organisations in the wake of the visit by US President Donald Trump to Saudi Arabia last month and under pressure from other Sunni Arab governments.
Hamas moved its “political office” from Damascus to Doha in 2012, in protest over the killing of Sunni rebels by the Syrian regime.
Qatar, meanwhile, has emerged as the main Arab state backing Hamas both politically and financially.
While there is no indication yet that Qatar is planning to close down the Hamas office in Doha entirely, or cease funding it in Gaza, this is a further blow for the movement, which has found itself increasingly isolated in the Arab world in recent years.
Since the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, Hamas, a sister movement to the Brotherhood, has been under intense pressure from the Egyptian regime to sever its ties to it.
In addition, the Saudi government and other Arabian Gulf nations have pressured Hamas on its ties to Iran, with which it has had an on-off relationship since the beginning of the war in Syria.
Another former protector now cooling on Hamas is Turkey. Last year, as part of the rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, the Erdogan government ordered Al-Arouri, who was directing operations from an office in Istanbul, to leave.
The Qatari move against Hamas is taking place in a period of deep tension in the Gulf, with the announcement on Monday by the Saudis, along with Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain that they are cutting ties with Qatar over its alleged support for terrorism. In addition to severing diplomatic ties, they closed their borders with Qatar and recommended companies cease doing business there.
The joint statement put out by the four governments accused Qatar of providing support for Isis, Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as for Iran-backed Shia militants in Saudi’s Qatif province and Bahrain.
Tension has been growing since statements purported to have been made by Qatar’s Emir were published last week in which he criticised the Saudis for being too hostile to Iran. The Qataris later claimed that their official website had been hacked and that the statements were false.
Qatar has tried for years to chart its own diplomatic course in the region, supporting Hamas and the Islamic Brotherhood, both financially and with propaganda via its Al Jazeera network. It has also been closer to Iran than the other Sunni Gulf nations. It has tried to balance this with overtures to the West, including hosting a large US military base and quiet engagement with Israel. However, its powerful neighbours now want the Emir to choose sides.