TIME Qatar

Some See Qatar’s Hand in Collapse of Gaza Talks

Mahmoud Abbas, Khaled Mashaal, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, shakes hands with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal as the then Emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, looks on after signing an agreement in Doha on Feb. 6, 2012 Osama Faisal—AP

An official from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement suggested on Wednesday that Qatar torpedoed the peace talks

(DUBAI, United Arab Emirates) — The explosions rocking the Gaza Strip may seem far removed from the flashy cars and skyscrapers of ultra-rich Qatar, but efforts to end fighting between Hamas and Israel could hinge on how the tiny Gulf Arab state wields its influence over a Palestinian militant group with few friends left.

Qatar has been home to Hamas chief-in-exile Khaled Mashaal since 2012 and has carved out a role as a key financial patron for Gaza, buying influence while shoring up an economy overseen by Hamas.

That support is prompting accusations that Qatar helped scuttle a lasting truce in the monthlong Gazawar, piling on pressure as the U.S. ally finds itself increasingly isolated as larger Mideast powers marginalize Islamists following the Arab Spring.

An official from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement suggested Wednesday that Qatartorpedoed the peace talks. After signs of progress last week, Hamas negotiators returned to the table after consultations in Qatar with new conditions — prompting a similar response by Israel, he said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly, said the experience indicated the Qataris “have no interest” in seeing Egyptian-led talks succeed, and that Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood are working together to undermine Egypt.

The London-based pan-Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat separately quoted a senior Fatah official saying Qatarthreatened to expel Mashaal if Hamas accepted an Egyptian peace proposal. It said Hamas demanded that Egypt grant Qatar a role in resolving the Gaza crisis, but Cairo rejected the idea until Qatar formally apologizes for its policies in Egypt since the military overthrow of Brotherhood-backed President Mohammed Morsi last summer.

Qatari officials could not be reached to comment on the claims. A Qatar-based spokesman for Hamas dismissed the Al-Hayat report as baseless and said it was an attempt to sabotage the negotiations.

“This is nonsense … The nature of relations between Qatar and Hamas are not like that,” Hamas spokesman Husam Badran told The Associated Press.

Khaled al-Batsch, a representative of the Islamic Jihad militant group, also denied Qatari interference. “We never felt at any point that there was a Qatari presence in the talks,” he said.

An Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with journalists, said he did not know if Qatar actively encouraged Hamas to take a hard line, but said Qatar was at least indirectly responsible for the talks’ failure.

“Qatar unfortunately has been part of the problem. They are the major supporter of Hamas,” the Israeli official said.

Qatar at one point allowed an Israeli trade office to operate there — a rarity in the Arab world — before ordering it closed following a 2008 Israeli conflict with Hamas.

The outpost’s former head, Eli Avidar, told the AP that he believes Qatar has “enormous influence” over Hamas and has been pushing Mashaal to take a much more extreme position in negotiations.

“Right now Qatar is the main problem and definitely not part of the solution,” he wrote in an email. “The ruling family in Qatar should understand that this is a dangerous game their emir is playing.”

But in a development reflecting both Qatar’s significance and influence over Hamas, the Gulf country’s news agency reported that Abbas arrived Wednesday in Doha, where he was due to hold talks with Mashaal and the emir.

It is hardly the first time Qatar has been accused of taking an unpopular stance in the region.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar in March, saying it failed to uphold its end of a security agreement to stop meddling in other nations’ politics and backing groups threatening regional stability. Analysts widely saw that as a rebuke of Qatar’s support for Islamist groups and its activist foreign policy, including its backing of the Al-Jazeera satellite network, which has nettled governments across the region.

Qatar’s leaders reject suggestions that they are behind Hamas, and insist that the Gaza funding is intended for those who live there.

“Qatar does not support Hamas. Qatar supports the Palestinians,” Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah told CNN in late July.

The former Qatari emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has at least publicly attempted to promote reconciliation between Hamas and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank. He brokered an interim unity government between Abbas and Hamas in early 2012, but that was never implemented.

Before the year was out, the emir traveled to Gaza, becoming the first head of state to visit the seaside territory since Hamas militants seized control in 2007. He launched more than $400 million worth of projects, including plans for housing, a hospital and roads, and called for Palestinian unity.

Khalil Shaheen, a political analyst in Ramallah, suggested the idea that Qatar is solely in Hamas’ camp is overblown. He said it has also provided funding for Abbas’ government and has not tried to tie its Gaza aid to Hamas’ military activities.

“There never was a real crisis between Qatar and the Palestinian Authority even during the worst times between Fatah and Hamas,” Shaheen said.

He said Qatar wanted a role in the ceasefire talks based on its good relations with Hamas and to show that Egypt is “not the only dominant player in the region.”

For the U.S., Qatar plays a role that it often can’t by acting as a go-between with groups deemed unsavory by Washington. It earlier this year brokered the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban operatives in Afghanistan.

U.S. State Dept. spokeswoman Marie Harf described the Qataris as “a key partner” in the effort to forge a peace deal in Gaza earlier this week, before talks collapsed. Responding to questions about whether they support terrorism and Hamas, she said they play a key role in getting Hamas to agree to a cease-fire.

“We need countries that have leverage over the leaders of Hamas who can help get a cease-fire in place, and Qatar certainly plays that role,” she said.

Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Cairo, Josef Federman in Jerusalem, Karin Laub inGaza City, Gaza Strip, and Abdullah Rebhy in Doha, Qatar, contributed reporting

TIME Middle East

Hamas Still Has Some Friends Left

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament in Ankara, Turkey, July 22, 2014.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, in Ankara, July 22, 2014. Burhan Ozbilici—AP

Though Egypt has turned its back on Hamas, other countries are coming in from the cold

With the fighting in Gaza intensifying daily, the ruling militant group Hamas is finding itself pushed to the limit. Trying to match Israel’s vast military might is an impossible task, and even finding the resources to launch rocket attacks against Israeli targets could only be achieved by heavy foreign investment.

But which country wants to invest in Hamas? The West certainly doesn’t. The militant Palestinian organization has been a firm fixture on the United States’ Foreign Terrorist Organizations list since 1997. Hamas’ only hope is its neighbors in the Arab world.

Hamas has two clear allies, according to Middle East experts: Qatar and Turkey. Both have given Hamas their public support and financial assistance estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Qatar also hosts Hamas’ political bureau which includes Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal,” says Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “Qatar has a long history of providing shelter to Islamist groups, amongst them the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban.”

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, which came to power in 2002, supports what Joshi calls “other neo-Islamist allies.” Though the Turkish government explicitly rejects the label “Islamist”, their social conservatism is inspired by an Islamic ideology that Hamas shares. Last year, Meshaal visited Turkey and met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for several hours.

Both Qatar — one of the world’s richest states — and Turkey are powerful allies to have, but Hamas might wish for more support given the breadth of the Arab world. It once had it, too. Hamas used to be strongly allied with both Iran and Syria, with the former giving Hamas an estimated $13-15 million a month as recently as 2011, as well as long-range missiles. Hamas’ political bureau used to be based in the Syrian capital of Damascus before its move to Qatar in 2012.

But relations cooled dramatically with Iran and Syria amid sectarian divisions following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Iran, a Shia-majority country, backed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose Alawite faith is a branch of Shia Islam. Hezbollah, a powerful Shia Islamist group based in Lebanon, also took Assad’s side.

However Hamas, a Sunni-led faction, sided, as most of the Arab world did, with the rebels. Cue Tehran cutting their allowance, Hezbollah allegedly ordering Hamas members out of Lebanon, and Hamas packing their bags for Qatar.

“Iran’s relationship with Hamas was always problematic,” says Chris Doyle, director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding. “Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni group and Iran is Shia. Nevertheless, Hamas was their entry into the issue of Palestine.”

Seeking to regain its influence over this issue, Iran has attempted to foster a reconciliation with Hamas over the last 18 months. Farwaz Gerges, professor on the Middle East at the London School of Economics says the conflict in Gaza is the reason. “The current crisis has brought a kind of rapprochement between Iranian leaders and Hamas.”

Hezbollah too, Gerges notes, has invited Hamas back into the fold. On Monday, the Hezbollah-owned television channel Al Manar reported that Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, praised Meshaal for “the persistence of the Hamas resistance.” The TV station added he “strongly supported their rightful demands to end the current battle.”

Gerges is quick to point out that this doesn’t signal “a return to the warm days of the Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas leaders.” However he adds: “Out of this particular crisis, a new realignment might happen.” That may sound like good news for Hamas, but there’s another Arab country that is of late vehemently opposed to it. That would be Egypt, the largest and most influential country in the Arab world and the one responsible for drafting a potential cease-fire.

From 2012 to 2013, Hamas enjoyed Egypt’s munificence under the leadership of former President Mohamed Morsi, a longtime member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood of which Hamas is an offshoot. When Morsi was ousted last year and replaced with Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Hamas knew the good times were over.

“The most devastating thing that has happened to Hamas is the ousting of Mohamed Morsi,” comments Gerges. Sisi, whose government has orchestrated a violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, destroyed Hamas’ tunnel network into Egypt and closed the border crossing at Rafah, devastating Hamas’ finances. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, two of Egypt’s financial backers, are also hostile to Hamas. Like Egypt, they view the Muslim Brotherhood as a clear domestic threat — and Hamas is guilty by association.

But perhaps Hamas doesn’t need Egypt. As the death toll continues to rise in Gaza, there is a groundswell of public sympathy across the Arab world for the group.

“Hamas in terms of people on the street is at the height of its political power in every single Arab country with the exception of Egypt,” says Gerges. “The longer the conflict continues, the more they gain in popularity. And for Hamas, what really matters is the public pulse.”

TIME Soccer

Soccer Bosses Are Turning the Heat on Sepp Blatter, Days Before the World Cup Starts

FBL-WC-2014-BRAZIL-FIFA-CONGRESS
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been under mounting criticism in recent days. Here he takes part in the opening ceremony of the FIFA Congress in São Paulo on June 10, 2014 Fabrice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images

Sepp Blatter is being urged to not seek re-election following the latest flurry of corruption allegations

Days before the World Cup kicks off, and Sepp Blatter, the head of soccer’s global governing body FIFA, is facing a barrage of criticism from his peers, whose frustrations at the lack of action over corruption allegations is forcing them to become increasingly vocal.

The Royal Dutch Football Association head Michael van Praag, and David Gill, vice president of UEFA, which governs European soccer, have called on Blatter to not seek re-election next year, according to the BBC.

“Few people still take FIFA seriously and, however you look at it, Blatter is mainly responsible,” said van Praag.

The appeal comes amid reports that illegal payments were made by disgraced Qatari soccer official Mohamed bin Hammam in return for support for its bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Qatar was awarded hosting rights, outdoing Australia, South Korea, Japan and the U.S.

But yesterday Blatter dismissed the latest corruption claims as racist, prompting a critical response from soccer bosses in Europe.

“These allegations need to be properly investigated and properly answered,” said Greg Dyke, chairman of the English Football Association.

Asked by BBC if Blatter ought to step down next year, UEFA vice president Gill replied: “Personally, yes. I think we need to move on.”

So far, Blatter has yet to respond to the calls.

[BBC]

TIME White House

The Last Time Qatar Promised To Watch A Gitmo Prisoner, He Walked

Despite a 2008 promise in writing, the Qataris let former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Jarallah al-Marri travel to Great Britain, where he was arrested.

When he announced a deal to free prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl in the Rose Garden, President Obama assured the nation that the five Taliban leaders being released in exchange would not be a threat to the U.S., thanks to assistance from the the Emir of Qatar. “The Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security,” Obama said on May 31.

But this is not the first time the Qataris have given their word in writing regarding the release of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner. And the last time it didn’t go very well.

On July 27, 2008, the U.S. released Jarallah al Marri, a Qatari citizen who had been detained in Afghanistan in late 2001 and held thereafter at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to State Department cables made public by Wikileaks. As part of the deal to hand him over, the Qataris signed agreements that contained “explicit assurances” that al Marri would not be able to travel outside the country, the leaked documents show.

That agreement was not kept. In early 2009, U.S. counterterrorism officials received word from British authorities that they had arrested al Marri attempting to enter the United Kingdom and were holding him, according to two former officials familiar with the case. The U.S. ambassador to Qatar at the time, Joseph LeBaron, held a meeting with the Qatari Attorney General to complain. The result, according to the leaked cables, “was far from satisfying.”

U.S. officials say this time, the deal with Qatar is more iron clad, in part because of personal assurances given to President Obama by the Emir of Qatar himself. “What is different now,” a senior administration official tells TIME, is that “we have stronger assurances and the personal commitment of the head of state, which is extremely unusual for GTMO or anything else.”

LeBaron, the former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, wrote in a leaked cable from March 2009 that the U.S.-Qatari counterterrorism “relationship is not working now and has not worked well for several years.” In an interview with TIME on June 5, LeBaron declined to discuss the contents of the leaked cables, but said the counterterrorism relationship has changed since the al Marri case.

In particular, he says the personal assurance of the Emir is an important element of the current deal. “The Emir has given a significant personal assurance about the five and that will drive the central government of Qatar’s actions across all aspects of counterterrorism, intelligence, the legal process and anything else, including border control,” LeBaron says.

The Obama Administration had previously rejected release for the five Taliban leaders because of secret and top secret intelligence showing they were a continuing threat. LeBaron now works in the private sector as an advisor of foreign governments for the firm Patton Boggs, and has private sector business interests in real estate and consulting in Qatar.

TIME World Cup

Qatar Bribery Allegations Loom Over the 2022 World Cup

FIFA President Sepp Blatter announces Qatar as the host nation for the FIFA World Cup 2022  in Zurich
FIFA President Sepp Blatter announces Qatar as the host nation for the FIFA World Cup 2022, in Zurich, Dec. 2, 2010. A bribery scandal may cost the Middle Eastern nation the tournament. Christian Hartmann—Reuters

A trove of emails allegedly implicating a former Qatari official in bribery has some critics questioning whether Qatar should host the 2022 tournament

Qatar, the tiny Gulf monarchy that has spent most of the last decade punching above its weight, is in danger of losing the 2022 World Cup – and with it a peerless showcase for its global aspirations.

An investigator for the international soccer association FIFA was in Doha on Wednesday questioning Qatari officials about allegations that bribery was involved in naming the dark horse as host of the month-long tournament, bringing what many consider the greatest spectacle in sports to the Middle East for the first time. The region was due a turn after the tournament was played in South Africa and divided between Japan and South Korea, but FIFA ethics investigator Michael Garcia was already probing corruption rumors when London’s Sunday Times over the weekend revealed documents apparently showing a former Qatari official paid $5 million in bribes to soccer officials to secure the selection. The report is due to be delivered to higher-ups June 9, three days before the 2014 tournament begins in Brazil.

“This is the one way a country can literally be the center of the world for a month,” says Laurent Dubois, a Duke University professor of Romance studies who has written a book on the politics of the World Cup. “And from the standpoint of political elites, that is a kind of catnip.”

So revoking the 2022 selection of Qatar – as at least one senior FIFA official has suggested could happen – and re-opening the competition for a host nation would strike a huge blow to the country’s prestige. And after raising its global profile by investing lavishly in museums, satellite news, and universities, Qatar lately has been already coping with a string of setbacks: the Muslim Brotherhood governments it supported in Egypt and the Gaza Strip are either removed or on their heels, while the rebels it arms in the Syrian civil war are losing to forces aligned with President Bashar Assad. Meanwhile correspondents for its satellite news channel Al Jazeera remain jailed in Cairo.

“The regional situation hasn’t gone very well for Qatar in the last year, so the World Cup becomes that much more important,” says Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institution Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington. “So much is tied to the success of the World Cup, whether it’s building new hotels, or building an entire metro system from scratch, all of that is to prepare for the World Cup in eight years. So without the World Cup, what is this all going towards?”

Qatari officials emphatically deny authorizing any bribery, insisting that Mohamed bin Hammam, the official at the heart of the Sunday Times’ devastating e-mail cache, was not involved in the official effort to land the tournament. Still, the Cup was already a source of controversy for Qatar. The new stadiums and infrastructure are being built by foreign workers who account for 1.4 million of the country’s 2.2 million people, and whom human rights groups say are so badly exploited that a number have lost their lives on the job – prompting a promise from FIFA to push for better conditions. The country’s climate is also a problem: temperatures in June and July, when the Cup is played, reach 120 degrees, raising the question of shifting the tournament to a cooler time of year. As former U.S. Treasury official Jonathan Schanzer tweeted about the Taliban prisoners released from Guantanamo into Qatari custody in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl: “To be fair, Qatar in late spring and summer is worse than prison.”

But the corruption allegations play to an image of a petroleum-drenched monarchy so wealthy it simply buys whatever it wants. And they come just as as FIFA is already reeling from a match-fixing scandal, and controversy over the $11 billion Brazil is spending, amid widespread poverty and social ills.

“It’s like the pigeons coming home to roost a little bit,” says Dubois, who teaches a course on the World Cup. “There’s no justification for FIFA having so little transparency, except corruption. Really, if you think about it. Their job is to organize soccer games. Why all the secrecy?” Yet the global body has answered only to itself for so long that it’s difficult to imagine it casting aside its choice of Qatar, even in the face of documents that the newspaper says number over a million. “On the one hand it seems to be inevitable that they’ll revisit the decision,” Dubois says. “And on the other hand, I can’t imagine them doing it.”

It’s just as hard for Hamid, who worked in Brookings’ Doha office for the last four years, to fathom the loss to the host country. “It would really be devastating, I think,” Hamid says. “I’m having difficulty imagining how Qatar would recover, in terms of perception.”

TIME Qatar

Watch: Gitmo Detainees Swapped for Bergdahl Arrive in Qatar

The backlash over the U.S. prisoner swap for Srgt. Bowe Bergdahl continues. These are the 5 Guantanamo detainees released in exchange for the American soldier

+ READ ARTICLE

The U.S released five detainees from Guantanamo Bay over the weekend into the custody of Qatar, in exchange for the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan nearly five years ago.

The video above—purportedly released by an Afghan news agency—shows the men as they land in Qatar, welcomed by hugs and smiles.

Qatar is believed to have played a crucial role in mediating the release of the American soldier, but the Qatari government remains reluctant to give details about its involvement in the operation. U.S. officials said the men will be subject to security restrictions, including a one-year travel ban.

Are the five Taliban leaders a danger to Americans?

Statistics suggest that the Taliban leaders freed may remain a threat. “Of the 614 Gitmo prisoners who had left the care of the U.S. Department of Defense as of January 14, 2014, 104 were confirmed to have reengaged in terrorism and 74 were suspected to have reengaged,” TIME’s Massimo Calabresi reports.

 

TIME Qatar

Qatar Remains Quiet About Its Role in Bergdahl Release

The Qatari government remains reluctant to give details about its involvement in the release of the American soldier freed by the Taliban

+ READ ARTICLE

While Qatar’s top English newspaper boasts headlines such as “Obama thanks Qatar for assistance as Taliban free American soldier,” it’s still unclear exactly what role the Qatari government played in the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Qatar’s foreign minister Dr. Khalid Al Attiyah was reluctant to go into much detail, according to CNN. “In any case, when Qatar takes on such a task of mediation, it bases that on a basic principle of our foreign policy, and that is the humanitarian consideration,” Attiyah said, after explaining that he was not prepared to talk in-depth about the prisoner release.

The Qatari government has also not addressed what might be the bigger question at hand: how it intends to contain the five Taliban leaders released from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdahl’s freedom, who will be held in Qatar under undisclosed circumstances.

 

TIME Football

Sepp Blatter: Awarding the World Cup to Qatar Was a ‘Mistake’

FIFA president Sepp Blatter attends a press conference at the conclusion of the meeting of the FIFA Executive Committee at the Home of FIFA in Zurich on Friday, March 21, 2014. Walter Bieri—Keystone/AP

Sepp Blatter laments in an interview with Swiss TV the decision to pick the excruciatingly hot Gulf state as the 2022 host of the games, even hinting that political pressure from Germany and France was behind the selection

FIFA president Sepp Blatter says it was a “mistake” to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar because of the country’s excruciatingly hot summer weather.

World soccer’s most powerful man admitted, “Of course it was an error, but you know, everyone makes a lot of mistakes in life,” during an interview with Swiss television channel RTS.

Qatar’s 2010 designation as World Cup host has been controversial not only because of its extreme temperatures but also because of its allegedly reckless exploitation of migrant workers to construct the necessary facilities. Qatar denies any wrongdoing.

Blatter hinted that the pick of the Gulf state ahead of the likes of the U.S. or South Korea was due to pressure from Germany and France, with then French President Nicolas Sarkozy convening the Qatari Emir and UEFA president Michel Platini at the Élysée Palace in Paris.

“You couldn’t imagine the Swiss President doing that,” he said.

[RTS]

TIME Qatar

American Couple Sentenced to 3 Years in Qatar Adoption Case

Matthew and Grace Huang, a U.S. couple who were accused of murdering their adopted daughter Gloria, stand outside the entrance of the Court of First Instance after their trial in Doha
Matthew and Grace Huang, an American couple charged with starving their 8-year-old adopted daughter to death, stand outside the entrance of the Court of First Instance after their trial in Doha, March 27, 2014. Mohammed Dabbous—Reuters

The judge did not say which crime the couple had committed

An American couple in Qatar charged with starving their 8-year-old adopted daughter was sentenced to three years in prison amid concerns that cultural misunderstandings surrounding adoption fueled the prosecution.

Prosecutors had called for the death penalty for Matthew and Grace Huang, alleging that they denied food to their daughter, Gloria, and locked her in her room at night, the Associated Press reports.

But the couple, banned from leaving Qatar since they were arrested and imprisoned for months in Jan. 2013, says Gloria, who was born in Ghana, died of medical problems complicated by unusual eating habits.

“We have just been wrongfully convicted and we feel as if we are being kidnapped by the Qatar judicial system,” Matthew Huang, an engineer who was working on the state’s water and sewer systems, said in a statement outside the courthouse and posted on the family’s website. “This verdict is wrong and appears to be nothing more than an effort to save face.”

Western-style adoption is uncommon in conservative Muslim countries. The police investigation questioned why the couple would adopt children with different “hereditary features” and suspected them of participating in child trafficking to sell their organs, the couple says on their site.

The U.S. State Department said Wednesday that the court did not consider all evidence in the case. It also said it had brought the situation up with Qatar officials, the AP reports.

A lawyer for the couple told the AP that the judge did not say what the couple was guilty of when he sentenced them to three years in prison and ordered them to pay $4,100. He said he would appeal the decision in a process that’s expected to take up to a year.

[AP]

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