In a surprise move, the Hamas terror group on Thursday announced it would not be accepting millions of dollars in funding from the Qatari government that was part of an unofficial ceasefire arrangement with Israel, moments after the Israeli security cabinet approved the transfer.
A $15 million monthly installment — out of a total of $60 million still to be paid to Hamas — had originally been scheduled for transfer last week, but was blocked by the Israeli security cabinet over violence along the border. The funds were then due to be transferred on Wednesday, but were delayed then, too, after Israeli soldiers came under fire along the Gaza border a day earlier.
Following further cabinet discussions and in light of the recommendations of the heads of all of Israel’s security services, the government on Thursday said that it had approved the transfer of the funds to cash-strapped Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
However, moments after the Israeli announcement, senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya said his group was not accepting the Qatari money, which was slated to support civil servants and needy families in the Gaza Strip. The group accused Israel of violating the ceasefire agreement brokered by the Egyptian military, UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov and Qatar by delaying the transfer of the money.
“We told the brother and ambassador (Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi) that we reject the third Qatari grant in response to the occupation’s behavior and its attempts to disengage from the understandings that Egypt, the United Nations and Qatar mediated,” Hayya told reporters in a Gaza press conference.
“We say our people and Gaza will not be part of the blackmail and the internal Zionist elections,” he said.
It was not immediately clear how Hamas’s refusal to accept the $15 million would affect the unofficial ceasefire, nor was it clear if the terror group was rejecting all the remaining funds or only January’s tranche.
Prior to Hamas’s announcement, the Israel Defense Forces deployed Iron Dome missile defense batteries in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and in the south as a precautionary measure against potential attack from either the Gaza Strip or from the north, where the security situation has also been increasingly precarious.
Under the unofficial ceasefire arrangement between Israel and Hamas, Doha agreed to transfer a total of $90 million to Gaza in monthly installments of $15 million. The group received the funds, in $100 bills, in November and December.
The money, $10 million of which goes to Hamas civil servants and the rest to needy residents in the Strip, was seen by defense analysts as key to calming tensions between Israel and the Palestinian enclave, which has seen regular violence along the border over the past 10 months.
“With our many active forces and factions, we are leading our efforts in the direction of obtaining our rights, which have been taken from us, on the path to liberation and return,” Hayya said.
The Hamas official said al-Emadi “understood” the terror group’s decision not to accept the funds.
“In the name of the Palestinian people, I offer our gratitude to Qatar — its emir, its people and its institutions. We tell them that Qatar’s efforts are appreciated,” the Hamas official said.
Al-Emadi arrived in the Gaza Strip late Wednesday evening via the Erez crossing, the Hamas-linked Al-Quds TV reported.
Israel’s entire security establishment had been in favor of moving forward with the transfer, including the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad intelligence service, the Shin Bet security service, and the National Security Council.
During a security cabinet meeting on Wednesday, defense officials said that it was the Islamic Jihad terror group, not Hamas, that had been behind the attacks on Israeli troops on the Gaza border the day before, and that while Israel’s shelling in response had killed a Hamas fighter, the terror group that rules Gaza has refrained from responding.
The transfer of the funds to Hamas, which calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, is widely unpopular in Israel.
Since March, Palestinians have been holding regular protests on the border. Israel has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of using the demonstrations as a cover for attacks on troops and attempts to breach the security fence.
Over 200 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more injured along the Gaza border by Israeli troops during this time, according to statistics from the United Nations and the Strip’s Hamas-run health ministry. Hamas has claimed many of the dead as its members.
An IDF soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July during a riot along the security fence. A Palestinian man living in Israel was also killed by a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip in November.
JTA contributed to this report.