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Gantz says he conducted talks with Qatari officials to enable Gaza aid

Defense minister reportedly met with high-ranking official in a third country in leadup to announcement of new funding arrangements

Palestinians receive financial aid payments from Qatar at a post office in Gaza City, on June 27, 2020. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Palestinians receive financial aid payments from Qatar at a post office in Gaza City, on June 27, 2020. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that he conducted talks with Qatari officials in the leadup to the announcement of an agreement to bring back Qatari aid money to the Gaza Strip.

“We decided you change and improve the mechanism of providing Qatari humanitarian aid to residents of the Strip, to ensure that the money reaches those that really need it,” Gantz said, in reference to Israel’s concern that the money would reach Hamas and terror projects.

“For this purpose, I was in touch with officials in Qatar who understood the Israeli need, and I thank them.”

According to an unsourced report in the Walla news site, Gantz met secretly with a high-ranking Qatari official in a third country to discuss the matter.

Israel, Qatar and the United Nations announced the “new mechanism” on Thursday for Qatari humanitarian funds to reach Gaza, with money transferred directly to individuals by the UN, ending a stalemate over the urgently needed aid.

Qatari support is seen as a crucial lifeline for impoverished Palestinians living in the enclave.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a conference in the Eshkol region, southern Israel, on July 13, 2021. (Flash90)

Prior to the conflict in May between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, the flow of funds from Qatar was considered vital to maintaining relative calm between the Jewish state and the Islamist terrorists.

Qatar and the UN will channel $100 salaries for 100,000 impoverished Gazan families — $10 million in total — each month through the UN and the UN World Food Program, Qatari envoy to Gaza Mohammad al-Emadi said in a statement.

This arrangement was approved through the end of 2021.

According to al-Emadi, the money will be distributed beginning in September. The funds do not include payments to Hamas civil servants, who also received cash from Qatar before the May conflict.

Gantz said that Israel will oversee the recipients of the money.

Under the somewhat convoluted arrangement, Qatar will deposit the funds each month in a UN bank account in New York, from which it will be transferred to an unspecified Palestinian bank in Ramallah and from there to a branch in the Gaza Strip. The Gaza branch will then issue the $100 stipends to the recipients in the form of reloadable debit cards.

Since the May conflict, Israel has blocked the payments, insisting on safeguards that none of the money will reach Hamas. Under the system before the conflict, some $30 million in cash was delivered in suitcases to Gaza each month through an Israeli-controlled crossing.

A Palestinian man shows his money after receiving his salary in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 9, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

In the aftermath of the fighting, Israel has also maintained heightened restrictions on Gaza, significantly limiting imports and exports and complicating the reconstruction of the battered enclave.

During the recent 11-day conflict, Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian rockets caused at least $290 million worth of damage to the Gaza Strip, international assessors reported in early July.

The Israeli government has also sought to condition any easing of restrictions on progress in talks to reach a prisoner exchange with Hamas. The terror group currently holds two Israeli civilians, as well as the bodies of two Israeli soldiers. Hamas hopes to swap them for thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

For four months, Israel and Hamas have held indirect negotiations. The failure to make serious progress has occasionally sparked rising tensions between the two sides.

On Monday, southern Israel was hit with the first rocket fire since the May round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, although no Palestinian group took responsibility. Two days later, faction leaders in the Gaza Strip threatened to escalate with Israel unless their conditions were met.

On Wednesday, the various terror groups in Gaza announced plans to hold a large protest along the border on Saturday. On Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces stepped up its defenses along the border in preparation for the demonstration and out of concern that it may lead to further violence.

A Palestinian national flag is erected on the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Yunis town in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 8, 2021 (Said Khatib/AFP)

Israel did not respond to Monday’s rocket fire in its usual manner of striking Hamas targets inside the Gaza Strip. Earlier that day, Israeli authorities also loosened some restrictions, including allowing over 1,350 Gazan traders the opportunity to exit and permitting cement and tires into the enclave.

Nonetheless, without a comprehensive agreement to facilitate reconstruction in Gaza, observers say that a future escalation of hostilities is inevitable. The Qatari subsidies had emerged as one of the major stumbling blocks in the talks to strengthen the fragile ceasefire.

The Palestinian Authority had hoped to sign a separate agreement between Ramallah and Doha to transfer the Qatari funds. But the deal fell through after Palestinian banks registered opposition, fearing international sanctions should they pay out salaries to Gazans affiliated with Hamas.

In a meeting with UN envoy Tor Wennesland on Thursday, PA premier Mohammad Shtayyeh rejected the notion that the UN would serve as the conduit for the Qatari cash.

Aid must go via “one address — the Palestinian National Authority,” Shtayyeh said in a statement carried by his office.

Israel and Egypt have placed Gaza under a tight blockade for over 15 years, which they say is necessary to prevent an even greater threat to their security from Gaza’s Hamas rulers. The restrictions have been tighter ever since the May conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Rights groups lament the blockade’s effect on Gaza’s civilian population. Over a decade and a half of sanctions have left the enclave impoverished. Around 57 percent of Gazans are under the poverty line, the UN reported in 2017.

Judah Ari Gross and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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