Qatar, Mauritania cut ties with Israel

The Gulf nation of Qatar announced a freeze in its ties with Israel to protest the bloodshed in Gaza at an Arab summit Friday that deepened the divisions between pro-US Arab nations and their rivals in the Middle East.

US allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia led a boycott of the gathering in the Qatari capital, which Qatar called to take a united stance over the Gaza violence but which ended up being dominated by backers of the Palestinian terror group Hamas.

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a top Hamas supporter, made a surprise appearance, along with Hamas’s Syria-based political chief Khaled Mashaal. They and Syria’s president made fiery denunciations of Israel and called for Arab and Muslim nations to cut any bilateral ties they have with the Jewish state.

Syrian President Bashar Assad repeated an earlier announcement that his country had frozen its indirect peace negotiations with Israel, mediated by Turkey. He also declared that a 2002 Saudi-led Arab peace offer to Israel was “dead” because of the assault against Hamas in Gaza.

Qatar’s prime minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani, announced the suspension in ties with Israel. The oil-rich state does not have diplomatic relations with Israel but has been maintained lower-level ties, allowing an Israeli trade mission to operate and hosting Israeli leaders at conferences.

Hamad, who is also Qatar’s foreign minister, said the Israeli trade mission in the country will have about a week to leave. “We will tell the Israeli (trade mission) office that their presence here is unwanted until the circumstances improve and there is a better chance for peace,” he told reporters.

Mauritania, which was also attending the summit, also announced it was suspending diplomatic relations with Israel over Gaza. Mauritania had full relations with Israel.

The summit issued a final statement urging all Arab states to stop all forms of “normalization” with Israel and to reconsider their diplomatic and economic ties with it. Egypt and Jordan, which did not attend the summit, are the only Arab countries with peace treaties and full relations with Israel.

The Qatar gathering drew a stark line between Arab nations who support Hamas and those who back its rival, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel and Egypt expressed optimism Friday that a cease-fire could come soon, but the Arab divisions are likely to endure well after the Gaza fighting ends, and they could have an impact on a truce’s stability. Any final cease-fire deal for Gaza will likely need cooperation between the two factions to guard key border crossings into the coastal strip – but cooperation could be strained over time if their regional backers are at odds.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Abbas were preparing to hold a rival summit this weekend in Kuwait.

In the past week, Cairo and Riyadh reportedly used their political and financial weight to persuade other Arab countries to boycott the Qatar gathering or to send only low-level figures – hoping to limit the platform for Hamas’s backers. Egypt in particular feared that the summit could boost Hamas and undermine Cairo’s cease-fire mediation.

In the end, the only Arab heads of state to attend in Doha were from Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Qatar and Algeria – and from the more minor Arab League members, the Comoros Islands and Mauritania. Also attending were Ahmadinejad and the leaders of Hamas and the smaller Palestinian radical group Islamic Jihad and representatives from 9 other Arab and African nations.

Syria’s Assad criticized Arab nations for not attending and chided them for failing to support Hamas and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah in their armed “resistance” against Israel.

“Israel is a country, built on massacres … the enemy (who) speaks in language of blood only,” Assad said. “This is a call to resistance … resistance is the only way to peace.”

“How can those seeking peace, not support resistance,” Assad added, referring to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Mashaal took a tough line, insisting Hamas would not stop fighting in Gaza until its borders are opened. Israel has imposed a crippling embargo on Gaza since Hamas took over there in 2007, saying it was necessary to prevent weapons from reaching the group. But the blockade has also caused widespread shortages and suffering among Gaza’s 1.4 million people.

In Iran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sent a message to Hamas’s chief Ismail Hanieh in Gaza, saying Hamas’s resistance will lead to the defeat of Israel and infamy of “hypocrites” and “traitors” in the Islamic and Arab world, state TV reported.

In another sign of division between the two camps, Qatar’s emir announced ahead of Friday’s gathering that his country would give $250 million in aid for rebuilding Gaza – and he said it should go “directly to Gaza,” implying that it would not go through Abbas’s government, based in the West Bank.

The rival summit in Kuwait is expected to announce up to $500 million in aid for Abbas’s Palestinian Authority to help rebuilding.jpost