Israel said to let $50 million in Qatari aid into Gaza; balloon attacks to halt

Defense Minister Gantz, who railed against paying ‘protection’ to Hamas during election campaign, mum on report of such a deal under his watch

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

Palestinians receive financial aid from Qatar at a post office in Gaza City, November 27, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)
Palestinians receive financial aid from Qatar at a post office in Gaza City, November 27, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

Israel approved the transfer of $50 million by Qatar to Gaza as part of an apparent deal to halt escalating tensions with terror groups in the Strip, a Lebanese newspaper reported Monday.

The alleged agreement came after terror groups in Gaza renewed their practice of launching balloons carrying arson devices and explosives into southern Israel.

The Lebanese al-Akhbar newspaper, citing Qatari and international mediators, reported that the terror groups in the Strip had agreed to stop the balloon attacks, which have thus far caused no injury or damage.

The apparent deal came despite bitter criticism of such arrangements by Defense Minister Benny Gantz throughout the past three national election campaigns, in which the opponent-turned-ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the government of paying “protection money” to the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group by allowing the transfer of millions of dollars of Qatari aid into the Strip as part of a ceasefire agreement.

Left to right: Blue and White alliance leaders Moshe Ya’alon, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi during a tour of the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, near Kibbutz Kfar Aza, on March 13, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

“Netanyahu pays the Hamas murderers 15 million dollars. Every month. In cash. In exchange we got hundreds of rockets on the residents of the south, tens of thousands of dunams burned, hundreds of incendiary kites and balloons, tens of thousands of children in bomb shelters. We won’t pay Hamas protection money,” Gatnz said in one campaign video.

Gantz’s office refused to comment on Monday’s al-Akhbar report.

The parents of an IDF soldier whose remains are being held captive by Hamas in Gaza denounced the defense minister on Monday for apparently allowing the deal.

“Benny Gantz is a huge disappointment for us. There’s an unconscionable gap between his remarks and declarations and his actions,” said Leah and Simcha Goldin, whose son Hadar was killed during the 2014 Gaza war, which Gantz led as IDF chief.

Leah Goldin, right, and her husband Simcha Goldin and other family members and supporters gather outside the state memorial ceremony for Operation Protective Edge at Mount Herzl on July 23, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“The transfer of $50 million to Hamas and the continued abandonment of our sons is a disgrace,” they said in a statement, also referring to Oron Shaul, another IDF soldiers whose remains are being held by Hamas, and to two living Israeli men, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who entered Gaza and were taken captive by the terror group.

“At the direction of the security cabinet and with help from the IDF, $50 million in cash in suitcases will be given to Hamas in Gaza today, an amount that has increased threefold,” they wrote.

On Sunday, a cluster of balloons carrying a suspected explosive device that was apparently launched from the Gaza Strip landed outside the southern Israeli community of Tidhar, local officials said.

It was the first such balloon-based cross-border attack in several months, though a small number of balloons without suspected explosives attached to them have been flown over the border during that time.

The incident came against the backdrop of growing threats by groups associated with terrorist organizations in the Strip to resume the practice of these airborne explosives and arson devices into Israel, having stopped in February as Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group began negotiating a long-term ceasefire and prisoner exchange.

In an interview with Palestinian television on Saturday, leading Palestinian Islamic Jihad member Ahmed al-Modallal indicated that terror groups were giving the practice a green light, saying the balloons were being launched by “youths who are letting out their emotions and responding to their distressed lives in Gaza that have no horizon.”

The generally restive Gaza border has been calm in recent months, following a large flare-up in February in which Islamic Jihad fired dozens of rockets into southern Israel after the Israel Defense Forces killed one of its members as he was planting a bomb along the border. The IDF responded to the rocket attacks with a series of punishing airstrikes on the group’s bases in the Strip.

In the intervening three and a half months, Israel has been negotiating a long-term ceasefire agreement with Hamas, which has reined in the Islamic Jihad and other terror groups in the Strip throughout the process as well as the often violent demonstrations along the Gaza border.

In recent days, however, Gaza terror groups have indicated they would restart the low-level violence along the border, including the protests.

Israel has conducted three large operations against terror groups in the Gaza Strip in the past 12 years, as well as many shorter, multi-day exchanges.

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