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LONDON — They say politics is about who you know.
And Britain’s close relations with the gulf state of Qatar mean senior U.K. politicians are now being targeted by the worried families of the Israeli hostages held captive by Hamas since October 7.
Qatar has been an important mediator between Israel and Hamas during the months-long conflict — but it’s also a major financial supporter of Hamas and hosts a political office for the group.
“We need Qatar on our side, and not on Hamas’ side,” said Liran Berman, whose twin brothers Gali and Ziv were captured by the militant group from the Kibbutz Kfar Aza, as part of the wave of deadly attacks that rocked Israel on October 7. “We need Qatar on Western civilization’s side, and on Israel’s side.”
Qatar has served as a key arbitrator on a deal proposed by Israel that would free all remaining captives held in Gaza and temporarily halt hostilities for up to two months — the longest period of cease-fire offered to Hamas since the start of the war.
U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron is in the gulf state today for further talks with senior members of the regime.
Before he departed Wednesday, Cameron — along with his boss, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — met with hostage family members who had flown into London to press Britain to use its long-standing ties with Qatar to make sure a deal happens.
Berman told POLITICO that Sunak “needs to do more.”
“I thanked him and I urged him, begged him, to keep the pressure up and to keep the hostages as the first and foremost priority,” he added.
“I feel he was very sympathetic, but we need to stop with the sympathy … We feel that he is doing something, but he needs to do more.”
“We didn’t start this war, this conflict, we didn’t want it,” he added. “So I begged him to do whatever he can. Specifically to put pressure on Qatar because we know that Qatar is the key player to facilitate the deal [to release hostages].”
‘The best uncles’
Berman has not heard from his brothers, both 26, since they were captured in October.
He described the pair, both electricians, as having “an amazing chemistry with everyone they meet, especially when they’re together.”
“Gali is more outspoken and vibrant, whilst Ziv is more shy and reserved … they are the best uncles to my little kids.”
Berman also believes energy needs to be put into fighting misinformation and anti-semitism in the U.K., warning the country is “losing the fight on social media with so much fake news about what’s going on about Israel.”
“In the ’30s and in the ’40s Jewish people were afraid to go out with a kippah or a Star of David. And now it’s 2024 and we are afraid again to walk with a kippah in London,” he warned.
“It shouldn’t be like this. We have no conflict with any religion. We just want to live in peace and co-existence with everyone.”
Cameron, the U.K. foreign secretary, is in Qatar this week as part of a fresh round of U.K. diplomacy in the Middle East.
He landed in Israel Wednesday to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Britain has vowed to stand steadfastly by the nation’s side in its war with Hamas, but the mounting death toll and humanitarian crisis stemming from Israel’s reprisal war in Gaza risks straining the relationship.
Cameron is expected to raise the importance of the two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, which Netanyahu has publicly rejected in recent days.
“An immediate pause is now necessary to get aid in and hostages out,” the British foreign secretary said ahead of his trip. “The situation is desperate.”
Cameron also met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, before flying to Qatar Wednesday night. He then heads on to Turkey for further talks.
Berman said he hoped the U.K., “one of the strongest countries in the world, can put pressure on this topic” so he might finally see his brothers again.
A spokesperson for Cameron’s department, the foreign office, said: “As the foreign secretary has said, the suffering of hostages and their families defies belief. It is unacceptable for Hamas to continue holding them.
“The fastest way to secure their release, and to get more aid in, is an urgent humanitarian pause. The foreign secretary is in the region today for talks with the Israeli and Qatari governments to press for this outcome.”
Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.