REPORTS from Israel claim that a top Hamas official who has been expelled by Qatar is now in Malaysia.
The Times of Israel said that Saleh al-Arouri, who is believed to be responsible for organising and directing Hamas members in the West Bank, is now in Malaysia.
He is among the top Hamas figures who have left Qatar at the kingdom’s request and, in addition to Malaysia, were headed for Lebanon and Turkey to seek refuge.
The report did not say the number of Hamas officials who have been expelled, but note that the Palestinian organisation denies that its officials have been asked to leave.
However, Haaretz cited Lebanon’s news channel Al Mayadeen as reporting that Qatar has provided the Hamas leadership with a list of officials who have been requested to leave the country’s capital of Doha.
Israeli intelligence agencies accuse Saleh of directing the alleged abduction and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in the summer of 2014.
That incident led to a brutal crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank by Israel, to which Hamas responded with heavy rocket fire into Israel from Gaza. Israel retaliated by launching a major operation in Gaza, which turned into an all-out war between Hamas and the Jewish state in the summer of 2014.
It is unclear if Saleh is alone or is accompanied by others or there are other Hamas officials seeking refuge in Malaysia.
Hamas rules the Gaza Strip while its rival Fatah controls the West Bank.
The expulsions come as Qatar is embroiled in a bitter diplomatic spat with its gulf neighbours and other Arab nations.
In what has been described as the worst rift in the Arab world since the 1991 Gulf War, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen have severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of fomenting instability in the region through its support of terrorist organisations and Iran.
Malaysia recognises Palestinian statehood, and has long supported its struggle against Israel.
Despite Hamas’ designation as a terrorist organisation as by the United States, Malaysia has hosted and supported Hamas leaders at political events.
In 2014, Israel accused Malaysia of being a training ground for Hamas militants.
Then home minister Zahid Hamidi denied the charge, dismissing it as Israeli propaganda against Malaysia.
“Malaysia is also a strong supporter of the Palestinian struggle in terms of moral and humanitarian assistance.
“This strong support from Malaysians is due to the good relations between the leaders of the two countries which has been established for a long time, and this is probably why the Israelis are not satisfied,” he said.
Hamas then had also denied the Israeli accusation.