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Blinken urged Qatar to threaten Hamas with expulsion from Doha as Gaza ceasefire talks stalled, officials say

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered a stern message to Qatar earlier this month: Tell Hamas that they must deliver on a hostage and ceasefire deal that would halt the war in Gaza or risk getting kicked out of the Qatari capital of Doha where senior members of the terror group are based, two US officials told CNN.

The pressure from the US came at a time when negotiations between Hamas and Israel had stalled, before Hamas came back to the table with a new set of demands which were discussed this week in Doha. The indirect talks, held between Israel and Hamas under Qatari and Egyptian mediation, were the first to be held in Doha at that level in weeks and are set to resume on Friday.

The message was delivered by Blinken to Qatar’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in a meeting in Washington on March 5, sources familiar with the matter said. US officials said that Qatar, which has been a critical partner to the US in efforts to reach a ceasefire deal, understood the message and received it without major pushback.

Qatari officials did not comment on the specific meeting but said that they are exerting immense pressure on Hamas. It is unclear if Qatar delivered the warning to Hamas leaders.

Hamas established a political office in Doha in 2012, with senior members of the group based there permanently. As a result, Qatar plays a crucial role in the region between Hamas and other nations.

While Blinken’s message this month was tough, the Biden administration has been actively discussing with Qatar its relationship with Hamas since the terror group carried out its brutal attack on Israel on October 7.

A week after the October 7 attack, Blinken met with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in Doha and publicly said “there can be no more business as usual” with Hamas.

During that meeting, the Emir suggested that the country would be willing to expel Hamas leaders from Doha if they were asked to do so by the US, according to sources familiar with the meeting. But the Emir also told Blinken that Hamas was willing to turn over some hostages and Blinken agreed that it would be good to pursue the opportunity to get out the hostages, which kicked off the entire negotiating process, separate sources familiar with the meeting told CNN.

The talks have gone on for months and brought about a temporary pause in fighting and a limited hostage release in November.

The message from Blinken earlier this month was prompted by US frustrations over the slow pace of progress in the negotiations, US officials said.

“I would have liked to have seen it done even earlier. I can’t be sure that it wasn’t done, but their behavior suggests to me that they weren’t feeling pressure from us over there,” said Dennis Ross, a former US envoy to the Middle East. “My guess is early on, there was a difference in assessment from the administration, they thought – they would get more responsiveness by not putting pressure on that [Hamas]. I think as time went on, they’ve become somewhat more frustrated.”

While some US officials noted that it is unclear exactly how much leverage Hamas’s political wing Doha has over the group’s militant faction in Gaza, they also pointed to forward movement this week with the parties finally meeting again in Doha.

Blinken struck an optimistic tone this week, saying on Wednesday that the negotiations are “getting closer” to a deal.

“I think the gaps are narrowing, and I think an agreement is very much possible,” Blinken said.

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