January 6, 2015 / 2:02 PM / 3 years ago

Hamas denies exiled leader Meshaal expelled from Qatar

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal speaks during an interview with Reuters in Doha October 16, 2014.Fadi Al-Assaad

DOHA (Reuters) - The Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas on Tuesday denied reports that its exiled political leader, Khaled Meshaal, had been expelled from Qatar.

The U.S. news network CNN quoted what it said was a Hamas-run news agency, which it did not name, on Tuesday as saying Meshaal and members of the Muslim Brotherhood had been expelled from Qatar, and that they were most likely headed to Turkey.

"There is no truth to what some media outlets have published over the departure by brother Khaled Meshaal from Doha," Hamas official Ezzat al-Rishq told Reuters by telephone.

Another Hamas source confirmed that Meshaal was still in Doha and has no plans to leave the Gulf Arab country.

Qatar, which hosts a number of Islamist leaders including Egypt's Brotherhood and Meshaal, the exiled head of the Hamas politburo, has been under pressure from fellow Gulf states to reduce its support for Islamist groups.

The Qatari Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

Meshaal, 58, has lived in exile since his family left the West Bank in 1967 during a war in which Israel occupied the territory, along with the Gaza Strip. He survived an Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997.

Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, seized control of Gaza in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew from the enclave. Hamas fought a 50-day war with Israel last year. Meshaal paid a brief visit to Gaza in 2012.

Israel's Foreign Ministry swiftly reacted to initial news reports of Meshaal's expulsion, hailing the alleged development.

"The Israeli Foreign Ministry welcomes Qatar's decision to expel Khaled Meshaal, Hamas' politburo chief, to Turkey," the ministry said in a statement.

"The Foreign Ministry, led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, advanced various moves over the past year in order to bring about a situation whereby Qatar would take this step and stop aiding Hamas, directly and indirectly."

In September, Qatar asked seven senior figures from Egypt's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to leave the country. Diplomats in the Gulf state expect more Islamists to be ejected this year, although so far there have been no official announcements.

Reporting by Amena Bakr in Doha, Luke Baker in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Mark Heinrich

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