Defense Minister Ehud Barak
met with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa al-Thani almost a week and a half ago in Switzerland, at the Davos Economic Forum. The existence of the surreptitious talks has so far been kept under-wraps by Israel.
During the half-hour meeting the two discussed the current situation between Israel
which enjoys excellent relations with the Gulf Emirates. Also on the agenda was the ongoing economic siege imposed on Hamas-ruled Gaza, the breach of the Rafah border crossing and Qatari efforts to advance negotiations for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Barak's office declined to comment on the report.
Alongside Barak's momentous encounter, Palestinian sources have told Ynet that a senior figure from Qatar paid a visit to Israel two weeks ago and met with Israeli leaders to discuss the situation in Gaza and the possibility of jumpstarting stagnant negotiations over the release of Shalit.
The sources said that the Qatari representative proposed an agreement which would entail Israel rescinding its decision to cut back on its supply of diesel fuel to Gaza and allow the entry of humanitarian aid to the Strip. In exchange the Palestinians would cease the incessant rocket fire on Israel's south and Qatar would vow to try and reinstate the calm between Israel and the Palestinian parties.
The sources noted that Qatar has excellent relations with Hamas and said it had even held discussions with the Islamic Jihad regarding the cessation of the rocket attacks.
The visit likely effected Israel's decision to renew the supply of fuel to Gaza and delayed the decision to cut back on the supply of electricity to the Strip, the sources estimated.
Israeli sources have yet to confirm the visit.
Qatar has long been trying to encourage talks between the Hamas government and Israel, though Israel has vehemently rejected the proposal. Qatar has provided Hamas with economic support to combat the international sanctions set in place after its violent takeover of Gaza, with media reports setting the donation figure as high as $50 million.
But despite Qatar's support of Hamas and its good relations with Hizbullah,
Israeli leaders have maintained direct contact with the emirate. In his last months as vice premier, current President Shimon Peres
paid a high-profile visit
to the capital city of Doha.
Peres also visited Qatar in 1996, when he launched the new Israeli embassy there.
Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni met
with the Qatari Emir at a UN conference last year.
Ali Waked contributed to this report