Macron turns to Qatar for greater influence in the Middle East

Macron turns to Qatar for greater influence in the Middle East

During dinner at the Elysée Palace on Tuesday, February 27, Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani condemned what he described as the “genocide” underway in the Gaza Strip. The war between Israel and Hamas, following the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7, 2023, formed the backdrop to the Qatari leader’s first state visit to France since coming to power in 2013. French President Emmanuel Macron is seeking to increase his ability to influence the Middle East by seeking to strengthen relations with this country, a key intermediary between Israel and Hamas.

In a joint statement, the two leaders called for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire,” while reiterating their “opposition to an offensive against Rafah,” a threat regularly brandished by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They also discussed the fate of hostages still being held in the Gaza Strip since October 7, 2023, including three French-Israelis, while negotiations, under the aegis of Qatar, continue with a view to their release and a truce in the fighting.

The two countries signed a declaration of intent on humanitarian cooperation, particularly in Gaza, including a joint commitment of €200 million in aid to the Palestinian population. This funding comes at a time when the UN refugee agency UNRWA has been weakened by the suspension of funding from its main donors, led by the US, after Israel accused 12 of its agents of involvement in the attack on October 7, 2023. France and Qatar also chartered humanitarian and medical aid to Arish, the Egyptian port near Rafah, including 75 tons of freight, 10 ambulances, food rations and almost 300 family tents.

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Paris hoped that Doha would step up its support for the Lebanese military, which may be deployed in the buffer zone in southern Lebanon, with a view to the removal of Hezbollah militiamen from the area. The aim is to dissuade Israel from attacking Lebanon, in order to weaken the movement close to Iran and avoid a regional war. No definitive announcement was made, but, in their joint declaration, they “stressed their readiness to further support the Lebanese Armed Forces in this context, including through an international conference to be held in Paris.” the date of which was not specified.

‘Relationship well and truly back on track’

“Further support from Qatar for the Lebanese military cannot be ruled out, as Qatar is the only Gulf country that has agreed to support Lebanon,” said Cinzia Bianco, Gulf specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Bianco said that even if the diplomatic results of the visit are modest, against a backdrop of persistent stalemate in truce negotiations, “the relationship between France and Qatar is well and truly back on track.”

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