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Hamas presence in Doha prompts US Senate bill calling for review of key Qatar base

Lawmakers frustrated by group's presence there request report on 'operational value' of al-Udeid military base
The US Capitol Building, Washington DC, 2021 (AFP/File photo)

Congress is questioning the US's military cooperation with Qatar, calling for a review of a key US air base in the region, citing Doha’s “relationship” with Hamas.

The Senate’s draft fiscal 2025 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes an amendment backed by Republican Senator Rick Scott that calls for the Pentagon to issue a report on the “operational value” of the al-Udeid military base.

“The effect on United States Air Force operations in the Middle East if the United States were to redeploy members of the United States Air Force from Al-Udeid Air Base….and the resources that would be required [to relocate troops]”.

Al-Udeid is the largest US air base in the region and the forward operating headquarters of all US forces in the Middle East, also known as Centcom. Roughly 10,000 US troops are based in Qatar.

The amendment represents lingering frustration with many pro-Israel lawmakers over Qatar’s hosting of Hamas political officials in Doha. Qatar and Egypt are the US's main interlocutors with Hamas in ceasefire talks. 

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In April, senior Democratic lawmaker Steny Hoyer also called for the US to "reevaluate" its relationship with Doha, in response to what he said was Qatar’s inability to force Hamas to reach a hostage deal with Israel.

Those remarks drew a sharp rebuke from Qatar's embassy in Washington DC, which said "blaming and threatening the mediator is not constructive, especially when the target is a friend and Major Non-NATO Ally”.

The Gulf state’s ambassador to the US, Meshal bin Hamad al-Thani, also penned an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal, stating that his country doesn't endorse Hamas. 

'Hunt and kill Hamas officials'

The Congressional criticism is an especially sore point for Doha, which believes the attacks are unfounded.

Hamas was based in Damascus, Syria, until 2012, when it fell out with the Syrian government over the country’s civil war. Qatar agreed to host the exiled leadership at the request of the US to maintain an indirect line of communication with the group, Qatari officials say.

In June, The Wall Street Journal reported that both Qatar and Egypt warned Hamas officials that they face possible arrest, freezing of their assets, sanctions and expulsion from Doha if they don’t agree to a cease-fire with Israel.

US focused on hunting down Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar, in bid to end Gaza war
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But ceasefire talks are still stalled.

On Monday, the US said that gaps remain between the two, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel reserved its right to restart fighting after it takes back its hostages.

The Senate’s draft NDAA also seeks to codify assistance the US is providing to Israel to find and kill senior Hamas leaders, requiring the Pentagon to give briefings every 90 days to Congress about the status of support being provided.

MEE reported in May that the Biden administration was focused on tracking down Hamas's Gaza chief, Yahya Sinwar, in the hope that killing him would convince Israel to declare "total victory" and bring an end to the war on Gaza.

Current and former US officials who spoke to MEE on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the mission said the US was expanding its search efforts for Sinwar in Sinai, Lebanon and Syria, after believing the 61-year-old was hiding in tunnels deep below Gaza.

US defence officials and analysts consider al-Udeid a major asset for the US. In January, the Biden administration reached a deal to extend its stay at the base with Congress for another 10 years. 

MEE reported in April that the base was one of the locations from which the US scrambled fighter jets to shoot down missiles and drones fired by Iran at Israel.

Before 7 October, MEE reported that Israeli military officials were secretly dispatched to the base. While Qatar does not officially recognise Israel, it maintains indirect ties with it and both fall under Centcom’s area of responsibility at the Pentagon.

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