DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Qatar's top diplomat on Monday dismissed as "just rumors" an Israeli claim that the tiny Gulf nation agreed to expel a leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, saying he is a "dear guest" of the energy-rich country.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry last week issued a statement saying it welcomed Qatar's decision to expel Hamas political bureau head Khaled Mashaal to Turkey. It said the Qatari decision came after heavy diplomatic pressure from Israel.
Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah denied there were any such plans.
"These are just rumors that are targeted at changing Qatar's policies toward the Palestinian people. Khaled Meshaal is a dear guest in Qatar and he is in his country," he told reporters in response to a question during a news conference with his visiting Venezuelan counterpart, Delcy Rodriguez.
Hamas officials in both Qatar and Gaza earlier rejected the claim that Mashaal planned to leave Qatar, a member of OPEC that will host the 2022 World Cup.
"The motivation for these rumors," al-Attiyah added, "is to put pressure on Qatar to change its position on this issue. This is impossible because the Palestinian issue is at the heart of the principles of the country's foreign policy."
An Israeli official last week said his government had received word from "official channels" that Qatar had ordered Mashaal's expulsion.
Israel used to have a trade office in Qatar — effectively a diplomatic outpost — but that was ordered closed following the 2008 Israeli conflict with Hamas. It still maintains low-level relations with the country.
Qatar's former emir, the father of the current ruler, in 2012 became the first head of state to visit Gaza since Hamas militants seized control in 2007.
The Gulf state has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the seaside territory. Al-Attiyah has previously said his country's support is not for Hamas but for the Palestinian people.