NEW YORK: A prominent US lawmaker on Wednesday spoke out against Qatar for supporting a “Hamas terrorist,” as a House of Representatives committee approved sanctions against those who finance or assist the Palestinian militant group.
Ed Royce, a Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized Doha as his committee backed the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act, which would slap sanctions on countries and individuals who support Hamas and extremist terror operations.
It principally aims at Iranian support for Hamas, but mentions “significant financial and military support from Qatar”, which it calls a US ally, and the frequent interviews of Hamas officials on Al Jazeera, a news channel based in Doha.
“While we work to address Iran’s support for Hamas, we must also ensure US partners in the region do not host or aid Hamas terrorists. To that end, this bill has already had an effect,” Royce said in a statement emailed to Arab News.
“When the bill was introduced, Qatar was hosting senior Hamas terrorist Saleh Al-Arouri after being expelled in 2016 from Turkey. Two weeks after this legislation was introduced, he, along with other Hamas terrorists, was expelled from Qatar.”
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain broke ties with Qatar in June and imposed a land, sea and air blockade after accusing it of backing terrorism – allegations that Doha denies. US President Donald Trump echoed the claim.
To become law, the bill must pass the full House and Senate, and be signed into law by Trump.
It highlights the complicated ties between US and Qatar, which is home to the Al-Udeid air base and the forward headquarters of US Central Command, where troops are stationed for the war against Daesh and in Afghanistan.
Hamas has ruled Gaza since seizing control of the coastal area in 2007. It has since clashed repeatedly with more radical groups, which have carried out their own attacks against Israel in part to undermine Hamas.
Jonathan Cristol, a fellow at the World Policy Institute think tank, said US lawmakers were right to target Palestinian militants – but warned that tackling cash-flows and shaming Qatar may lead to unintended consequences.
“From an intelligence perspective, is it better to have senior Hamas operatives operating freely in Doha, where they can be watched and listened to, or is it better to drive them back to Gaza, to Iran, or underground?” Cristol told Arab News.
“This could actually make things more difficult both for Israeli and US intelligence services, but of course neither government can say so openly. Doha has also proven a useful location for negotiations with Hamas and is certainly a better option than Tehran or Gaza City.”
The bill was one of three measures aimed at Hamas that were approved by the House committee on Wednesday.
Another bill, the Taylor Force Act, would sharply reduce the $300 million in annual US aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) unless it stops making what lawmakers described as payments to militants who are killed or imprisoned by Israeli authorities.
It is named after a 29-year-old American military veteran who was fatally stabbed by a Palestinian while visiting Israel last year, the measure is intended to stop the PA from paying out stipends, which can reach $3,500 per month.
“Since 2003, it has been Palestinian law to reward Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails with a monthly pay check. Palestinian leadership also pays the families of Palestinian prisoners and suicide bombers. These policies incentivize terrorism,” said Royce.
“With this legislation, we are forcing the PA to choose between US assistance and these morally reprehensible policies.”
Palestinian officials have said they plan to continue the payments, which they see as support for relatives of those imprisoned by Israel for fighting against an illegal occupation or who have died in connection with their cause.