US lawmaker bashes Qatar as anti-Hamas bill advances

Ed Royce. (Courtesy photo)
Updated 16 November 2017

US lawmaker bashes Qatar as anti-Hamas bill advances

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.

UN to deliver aid to Syrians trapped near Jordan border

Updated 2 min 14 sec ago

UN to deliver aid to Syrians trapped near Jordan border

  • An estimated 50,000 women, children and men are stranded at the Rukban camp in southeast Syria near the Iraqi and Jordanian border
  • Jordan has allowed several humanitarian aid deliveries to the area following UN requests, but the borders remain closed

DAMASCUS, Syria: The UN said it was organizing a joint aid convoy with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to tens of thousands of Syrians stranded in the desert near the Jordanian border.

The world body said the convoy would deliver “humanitarian assistance to an estimated 50,000 women, children and men who are stranded at the Rukban camp in southeast Syria near the Iraqi and Jordanian border.”

“The overall humanitarian situation inside the Rukban camp is at a critical stage,” said Ali Al-Za’tari, the UN’s top official in Damascus.

Linda Tom, a spokeswoman for the UN’s humanitarian coordination office, OCHA, said the world body was “deeply concerned over the deteriorating humanitarian situation” at the camp.

A suicide bombing claimed by Daesh in June 2016 killed seven Jordanian soldiers in no-man’s land near the nearby Rukban crossing.

Soon afterwards, the army declared Jordan’s desert regions that stretch northeast to Syria and east to Iraq “closed military zones.”

The kingdom, part of the US-led coalition fighting Daesh, has allowed several humanitarian aid deliveries to the area following UN requests, but the borders remain closed. 

The camp, home to displaced people from across Syria, also lies close to the Al-Tanf base used by the US-led coalition fighting IS.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the camp suffers from a severe lack of food and medicines, compounded by its remote desert location, the closure of the Jordanian border and regime forces cutting off all roads to it.

The last delivery of UN aid to Rukban took place in January 2018 through Jordan.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF last week urged warring parties in Syria to allow basic health service deliveries to the camp, saying two babies without access to hospitals had died there within 48 hours.

On Thursday, UN humanitarian aid expert Jan Egeland confirmed the regime had agreed to allow convoys of aid to the Rukban area.

He said Russian officials had told him Syria’s regime had withdrawn a controversial law that allowed for authorities to seize property left behind by civilians who fled fighting in the country’s civil war.

Egeland of the office of UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura also confirmed he will leave his post in November. 

He spoke a day after de Mistura told the UN Security Council that he is leaving for “personal” reasons.

The envoy said that he will make a final effort before stepping down next month to advance toward a new constitution for Syria — a key step in ending the country’s civil war.

De Mistura announced at the end of a Security Council briefing that he is leaving the job in late November for “purely, purely personal reasons” related to his family after four years and four months in one of the toughest UN jobs.

He told council members that objections by the Syrian government are still holding up the launch of the committee meant to draft a new constitution.

While there is agreement on the 50-member government and opposition delegations for the drafting committee, de Mistura said the government objects to a third 50-member delegation that the UN put together representing Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women.

De Mistura said he has been invited to Damascus next week to discuss the committee’s formation.

He said he also intends to invite senior officials from Russia, Turkey and Iran — the guarantor states in the so-called “Astana process” aimed at ending the violence in Syria — to meet him in Geneva, and to talk to a group of key countries comprising Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Britain and the US.