Qatari Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani became the first head of state to visit Hamas-controlled Gaza and his visit may have succeeded where tunnels and flotillas failed, in opening up Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

“Breaking the siege,” reads Maariv’s front-page caption on a picture of the sheikh in a car driven by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, both men smiling broadly. Inside the paper calls the sheikh “Gaza’s emir” and says “the majesty with which the emir was received was reminiscent of Yasser Arafat’s first visit to Gaza in 1995.” The paper also quotes Haniyeh’s response to the visit (and the Qatari donation of $400 million for specific projects): “Today you officially declared the end of the political and economic blockade on the Gaza Strip.”

Haaretz and Israel Hayom put the Qatari sheikh’s visit on their front pages and then tie the visit to the attacks on the Gaza border. Haaretz’s front-page art is a large picture of the emir speaking with his wife, but the article focuses on the eight mortars that landed in Israel on Tuesday and the IDF officer who was severely injured by an explosive device along the border. The paper reports that the attack on the officer was the third attempt this week to harm IDF soldiers along the Gaza border. Defense Minister Ehud Barak responded by saying, “We insist on defending Israeli civilians and wewill enable the IDF to carry out its mission.”

Yedioth Ahronoth focuses its front page on the wounded IDF officer, Ziv Shilon, describing how doctors worked to improve his condition throughout the day, but were forced to amputate one of his hands. The paper reported that doctors are now working to try and save Shilon’s other hand. Yedioth also includes in its coverage the text of a eulogy that Shilon, 24, gave in 2008 for a close friend who was killed in Gaza.

Debating debates

Due to the time difference the papers couldn’t print their reactions to the final American presidential debate until Wednesday, but being a day late doesn’t mean there was a shortage of opinions.

Left-leaning Haaretz proclaimed President Obama the winner with the headline “Romney failed to display a different foreign policy than Obama, and lost the debate.” Inside, the paper translates a New York Times article that said that while Obama won, the narrow focus of the debate meant that major world problems were not discussed. Haaretz includes a world map and the number of times various countries were discussed. In first place was Iran, with 45 mentions; then came Israel with 34 mentions, followed by China with 30.

Major Republican donor Sheldon Adelson’s paper, Israel Hayom, declared on its front page: “Obama won on points, Romney radiated leadership, but the real winner of the last debate was Israel.” Boaz Bismuth writes that Romney passed a test on Monday night, that he did not “come to Flordia [where the debate was held] to win the debate, he came to Florida to win the election.” While Bismuth focuses most of his article on the excitement of the race and trying to predict who will win, he notes that with Israel being mentioned more than Afghanistan, Europe and Palestine, “the next president of the United States — Obama or Romney — showed how Jerusalem remained the most important ally of Washington, despite differences.”

“All roads go through Sderot,” reads Yedioth’s front-page headline, and the paper dedicates a two-page spread to the debate. The paper revels in the action of the debate, with quotes from Obama and Romney posted throughout. Also included is an interview with the Amar family, one of the families that Obama met when he was in Sderot (which Obama referenced during the debate). “He didn’t meet our expectations,” Pinhas Amar told the paper. “When he visited here I had the feeling that he would be a good friend and would always defend us, but it seems that is not the situation.”

Maariv is the only paper to leave the American debates off its front page, but its headline raises the possibility of an Israeli debate. “Party leaders agree to a debate, Netanyahu is evasive,” reads the headline, but the article hints that it probably won’t happen. Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich conditioned her participation on Netanyahu taking part. That’s not very likely, though, because, as the article points out, the last time Netanyahu participated in a debate was in 1999 and it didn’t go well for him (it was also the last time there was a political debate in Israel).

Permitted buildings?

Israel Hayom reports that on a visit to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, in southern Jerusalem, Netanyahu deflected recent criticism from the European Union about building in Jerusalem. “A unified Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital. We have the every right to build here. We have built Jerusalem, we are building Jerusalem, and we will continuing to build Jerusalem,” he said. Also attending the ceremony in Gilo was Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat who echoed Netanyahu’s statements, saying, “We will continue to build tens of thousands of apartments across all of Jerusalem.”

While building in Jerusalem is a hot topic, there are new requirements for supervision of construction in the territories. Haaretz reports on its front page that a military court has ordered that soldiers and military police halt unlicensed construction in the West Bank. The decision comes after a developer tried to skirt building permits and regulations by labeling work on a West Bank road as ‘emergency works.” The court orders soldiers to check that construction teams are in possession of permits onsite and if they are not then the IDF officers should stop construction. The article quotes the IDF spokesperson saying that a response to the order was “under review.”