RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Qatar on Wednesday said it was “appalled” by leaked remarks made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he criticized the country’s mediation efforts with Hamas, complicating already arduous negotiations meant to halt the hostilities in exchange for a hostage release.
In a meeting with families of hostages held by Hamas, Netanyahu said Qatar’s role in the mediation was “problematic.” Qatar, a key mediator that also has deep ties to the militant group and hosts some of its exiled leaders, said Netanyahu’s remarks were “irresponsible and destructive.”
The public spat came as sensitive talks were underway in an effort to advance a potential agreement that might offer some respite in the devastating three-month-old war. The fighting has killed more than 25,000 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza, displaced some 85 percent of the territory’s 2.3 million people and triggered a humanitarian catastrophe that has spread hunger, malnutrition and disease across the embattled coastal enclave.
As the diplomacy continued, fierce fighting still raged, especially in southern Gaza, where the United Nations said an Israeli tank strike on a U.N. facility killed at least nine people and wounded dozens.
Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with the offensive until “complete victory” against Hamas, which started the war with its Oct. 7 assault across the border, killing some 1,200 people in Israel and abducting 250 others.
Israel says it is fighting in self-defense, but it faces charges that it is committing genocide at the U.N. world court at The Hague, which announced that it would issue a decision Friday on South Africa’s request for an interim order telling Israel to halt the hostilities.
Qatar has been a critical link in negotiating efforts between Israel and Hamas.
In Netanyahu's leaked remarks, which were broadcast Tuesday on Israeli Channel 12 television, he also told the families that he has intentionally not thanked Qatar for its mediation efforts, claiming it could put more pressure on the Islamic militant group.
“Qatar in my opinion is no different, in essence, from the U.N. It is no different, in essence, from the Red Cross, and in some ways it is even more problematic,” he said. Israel views those organizations with suspicion, seeing them as biased against it and not helpful enough in securing the hostages’ freedom.
Netanyahu also said in the leaked audio that he had expressed anger at the U.S. for renewing a military base in the Gulf state.