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Israel halts transfer of Qatari funds to Gaza as border tensions spiral

Netanyahu postpones third installment of $15 million from Doha to Hamas civil servants in the Strip after IDF officer hit by sniper fire

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

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

Israel refused to allow a previously approved $15 million transfer to the Gaza-ruling Hamas terrorist group from Qatar on Tuesday, as the restive border region spiraled into deadly violence.

The move came after an IDF officer was injured by sniper fire on the border of the restive enclave, and a Hamas fighter was killed in a reprisal shelling by Israel.

Israel’s military closed areas near the border to civilian traffic, fearing further violence.

“Following the recent incidents in the Gaza Strip, and with consultation with security officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to allow the transfer of Qatari money to the Gaza Strip tomorrow,” an Israeli diplomatic official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The announcement was accompanied by a series of mock air raids conducted by Israeli fighter jets over the Gaza Strip on Tuesday evening, in an apparent show of strength and tacit threat to the enclave’s terrorist rulers Hamas.

A Hamas official told The Times of Israel that “Netanyahu’s decision to prevent their entry is a crime that will push Gaza toward an explosion.”

Qatar had been preparing to transfer $15 million in payouts to Hamas civil servants in the Gaza Strip. This was the third such installment for the terror group to be approved by the Israeli government, in what officials see as a pressure-release valve intended to calm unrest and ease a potential humanitarian crisis in the beleaguered Strip.

The transfer of the funds to Hamas, which calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, is widely unpopular in Israel. The announcement by the diplomatic official was a rare admission by the government that it had indeed approved the payments.

A Palestinian woman counts her money after receiving her salary in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, November 9, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The funds were expected to be transferred on Wednesday, after they were initially stalled by Israel last week in response to another flare up in cross-border violence, Qatar’s envoy to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi, told the Reuters news service.

The decision to halt the funds Tuesday came hours after a Palestinian sniper opened fire at a group of IDF soldiers during a riot along the Gaza border, hitting an officer’s helmet and lightly injuring him, in the second shooting attack of the day, the army said.

In response, the Israel Defense Forces targeted an observation post belonging to the Hamas terror group in eastern Gaza, near the el-Bureij refugee camp, the army said.

The helmet of an IDF officer shot by a sniper bullet during a riot along the Gaza border on January 22, 2019. (Courtesy)

The Hamas member who was killed was identified as 24-year-old Mahmoud Abed al-Nabahin by Gaza’s health ministry. On its website, Hamas’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades wrote al-Nabahin was a “fighter” who was “martyred” in the Israeli attack on its observation post.

Earlier in the day, shots were fired at Israeli troops on the border of the northern Gaza Strip, similarly prompting the Israeli military to destroy a nearby Hamas post, the army said.

No troops were harmed in the shooting attack and there were no casualties on the Gazan side.

The Israeli military did not indicate who it believed fired the shots. The Hamas post in northern Gaza was targeted because, as a rule, the IDF holds the terror group responsible for all violence emanating from the Gaza Strip, after it seized control of the enclave in 2007 by ousting the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

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.

Adam Rasgon and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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