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Qatar actively engaged in containing war as official warns of potential threats beyond the region

Concerns over a regional war have increased amid an anticipated Israeli ground invasion in Gaza.

Qatar is actively engaging in preventing Israel’s Gaza war from turning into a regional conflict that could affect the rest of the world, Doha’s foreign ministry spokesperson Dr. Majed Al-Ansari said on Wednesday.

“We are confident that with the help of our regional partners we will be able to contain this conflict, but certainly the dangers of this conflict becoming a wide-spanned regional conflict is something that is not only a threat to us here in the region,” Al-Ansari said during a weekly press briefing in response to a question from Doha News.

The top Qatari official’s remarks comes amid growing concerns over a full-blown regional war as Israel continues to bombard Gaza, pushing the death toll near 6,000. Israel has also been preparing for a ground invasion though it appears there have been delays for undisclosed reasons. Meanwhile, the United States has also mobilised in the region, sending military defence systems to the Middle East.

A report by the Washington Post on Tuesday claimed the US Joe Biden administration has been “very worried” that the situation “gets out of hand”, especially in light of the growing cross border attacks between Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel.

The State Department estimated that approximately 600,000 US citizens were in Israel and another 86,000 believed to be in Lebanon when the Palestinian resistance group, Hamas, launched the operation of 7 October. Now, the US is reportedly preparing a contingency plan to evacuate its citizens in the case of a regional flare-up.

“Since the beginning of this conflict we have made our contacts with all the relevant parties to make sure that all talks of the escalation beyond the parameters of the conflict,” Al-Ansari explained.

The Qatari diplomat further pointed out that “the developments on the ground are certainly alarming, especially in the West Bank, and south Lebanon.”

“We urge all parties to stop any escalation that might result in widening the scope of current escalation,” he said.

Meanwhile, the US has actively backed Israel militarily and refused to condemn its killing of civilians in Gaza. Since the start of the war on 7 October, Israeli occupation forces have killed at least 5,791 Palestinians, including more than 2,000 children, with more than 1,000 believed to be trapped under the rubble.

On Sunday, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that additional troops are on prepare-to-deploy orders, though he fell short of specifying the total number.

The following day, the US said it was deploying a ‘Terminal High Altitude Area Defense’ (THAAD) system and additional ‘Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept On Target’ (Patriot) air defence missile system battalions to Qatar and other countries in the region.

Qatar is the host of the Al Udeid Air Base, the largest American military post in the Middle East where at least 10,000 military personnel are located.

The US Central Command (Centcom)’s announcement came two years after the Biden administration withdrew air defence systems from the Middle East. THAADS are known to be a much larger version of Israel’s infamous Iron Dome, with capabilities that include destroying short, medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

Regional divide

Meanwhile, Saturday’s Cairo Peace Summit has raised further questions over the regional and international stance on the ongoing Israeli aggression on Gaza. Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani joined world leaders at the high-profile event in response to an invitation from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi.

However, the summit ended without the announcement of a ceasefire as Sisi’s Spokesman Ahmed Fahmi confirmed a divide over the final communique’s text. The official said there was a split between those who wanted to condemn one side and those calling for a neutral statement.

“The points of contention in the Cairo Peace Summit related to the level of condemnation. There are those who want to condemn one party, as if the narrative [the war] began with a specific party on a specific day, in reference to the Al-Aqsa Flood Operation that was carried out by the Al-Qassam Brigades of the Hamas movement,” Fahmi told Egyptian media at the time.

Fahmi was referring to the 7 October operation that was carried out by the Al-Qassam Brigades—Hamas’ armed wing. The historic operation saw the Palestinian resistance group break out from the besieged Gaza Strip and into occupied areas through air, land and sea attacks.

Responding to a question on the matter, Al Majed confirmed that there was no unified stance by different sides but described Qatar’s attendance was “positive”. 

No ceasefire indications

Deemed to be a heavyweight mediator, Qatar has taken on a crucial role to help with de-escalation efforts since Israel imposed a brutal siege and declared a war on the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, Qatar and Egypt secured the release of two elderly women from Hamas, both identified as 79-year old Nurit Yitzhak and 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz. Their release came days after Qatari mediation resulted in the release of two other American captives, identified as Judith Raanan and Natalie Raanan—a mother and a daughter.

The Al-Qassam Brigades—Hamas’ armed wing—had captured at least 200 Israelis, including members of the occupation forces, and a number of western citizens during the 7 October operation ‘Al-Aqsa Flood’.

The historic operation was an unprecedented attack on Israel, in which the Palestinian resistance group broke out from the besieged Gaza Strip and into occupied areas through air, land and sea attacks.

Israel has since used the operation as the pretext for its relentless bombardment of Gaza.

Responding to a question on whether there are currently indications for a ceasefire, Al-Ansari reiterated Qatar’s prioritisation of a safe humanitarian corridor and the release of captives as one of the most important steps in de-escalation. 

The Qatari official said talks with Doha’s international partners have centred on achieving the prioritised objectives, stressing that Qatar’s success in releasing captives from Hamas proved its ability to yield further positive results.

However, he pointed to “attempts by some parties to spoil mediation efforts”.

“As you can tell, the situation is getting more complicated. With every day that passes under the confrontation, we are seeing an increase in the lives claimed, losses in life that cannot be compensated.”

Speaking ahead of the weekly press briefing, Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said a breakthrough in talks to release captives is still possible.

“I think that if we compare where we started and where we are right now, there is some progress and some breakthrough and we will remain hopeful,” Sheikh Mohammed told the press at the Musheireb Diwan in Doha.

He added:”The negotiations are still ongoing and at any moment of time, I think that if we will be able to get along between the two parties, I think we will see some breakthrough, hopefully soon.”