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US university to shut Qatar campus citing Mideast instability

Members of an all-girl Afghan robotics team who fled the Taliban continue their studies in 2021 at the Qatar campus of Texas A&M, which the US university has announced will now close
— Doha (AFP)

Texas A&M is to close its Qatar campus, the US university said Friday, blaming Middle East insecurity for the move, which drew criticism from its partner in the Gulf emirate.

The university said it had "decided to reassess the university’s physical presence in Qatar in fall 2023 due to the heightened instability in the Middle East".

"The board has decided that the core mission of Texas A&M should be advanced primarily within Texas and the United States," chairman Bill Mahomes said in a statement.

The winding down of the campus, which opened in 2003, is due to take four years.

Colleges in the United States have faced intense political scrutiny, including accusations of anti-Semitism, since the unprecedented attacks by Hamas on Israel on October 7 triggered war in Gaza.

Qatar, a US ally which hosts a large US military base, also hosts an office of Hamas which doubles as the main residence of its leader Ismail Haniyeh.

The wealthy Gulf state has acted as a communications channel with Hamas, with Washington's blessing, and is playing a key role in negotiations for a new truce in Gaza, like the week-long pause that saw Palestinian militants release more than 100 of their hostages last November.

The Qatar Foundation, which partners with Texas A&M and half a dozen other US universities, said the decision had been "influenced by a disinformation campaign aimed at harming the interests of QF".

"It is disturbing that this disinformation has become the determining factor in the decision... with no consideration to the significant positive impact that this partnership has brought for both Qatar and the US," the non-profit said, without elaborating.

Texas A&M has previously been forced to deny unfounded accusations that its presence in Qatar gives the Gulf state access to sensitive research.

US ambassador to Qatar Timmy Davis said he was "disappointed Texas A&M is taking steps to close its Qatar campus".

The campus "represents (US) values and inspires innovation for students who might otherwise not have access to an American education," he said.

Hamas's attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

In response, Israel vowed to eradicate Hamas and launched air strikes and a ground offensive that have killed at least 27,947 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Militants seized 250 hostages, 132 of whom are still in Gaza, but 29 are presumed dead, Israel has said.