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Israel to begin allowing Qatar-funded fuel into Gaza on Monday

In apparent attempt to strengthen fragile ceasefire, Jerusalem will let fuel through Kerem Shalom crossing; Israeli security official denies report broader deal reached

A Palestinian man, on the rooftop of his home, looks at Gaza's power plant after it was shut down, in the town of Nusairat, central Gaza Strip, August 18, 2020. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)
A Palestinian man, on the rooftop of his home, looks at Gaza's power plant after it was shut down, in the town of Nusairat, central Gaza Strip, August 18, 2020. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

Israel will begin allowing Qatar-funded gasoline to enter the Gaza Strip to fuel the enclave’s only power station starting on Monday, for the first time since May’s fighting in the territory, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians said.

The Israeli military body, known widely by its acronym COGAT, said the continued entrance of Qatar-funded fuel will be “conditional on the preservation of security stability.”

UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland welcomed the news.

“Under the United Nations framework, the Qatari funded fuel deliveries for the Gaza Power Plant will resume tomorrow, Monday, as per the previous agreement between the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the State of Qatar,” he said.

“I welcome all steps taken to de-escalate the situation. UN will continue to work with all concerned parties and partners to solidify a ceasefire and help the people of Gaza.”

Since 2018, Qatar has pumped money into Gaza to fund fuel subsidies, salaries for Hamas government employees, and stipends for poor families. At the beginning of 2021, Qatar announced that it hoped to provide $360 million in cash aid to Gazan families.

But the 11-day military conflict last month between Israel and Hamas changed matters, and Israel has not agreed to allow Qatari subsidies into the enclave since then.

A convoy of trucks loaded with construction equipment provided by Egypt arrives at the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, on June 4, 2021. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The return of the Qatari-funded fuel will be the first Qatari subsidy to enter Gaza since the May escalation between Israel and the terror group. The fighting cost the lives of 256 Palestinians and 12 Israelis. Israel says most of those killed in Gaza were combatants.

Israel has conditioned a full return to the previous status quo — including allowing Qatari cash into the Strip — on progress on a prisoner exchange deal between Jerusalem and Hamas.

Hamas is holding two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers. The terror group’s leadership hopes to secure the freedom of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in an exchange.

“There’s no going back to the way things were,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz has said on numerous occasions, referring to the Israeli effort to establish a new kind of deterrence against Hamas.

Hamas, on the other hand, has demanded the lifting of restrictions without any connection to the potential for a prisoner exchange. The result is a fragile ceasefire between the two sides, international observers have warned.

A tanker delivers fuel to the Nuseirat power plant in the Gaza Strip on October 24, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The pro-Hamas Lebanese TV network Al-Mayadeen reported that Israel and Hamas had reached an initial deal to bring in Qatari money — despite the lack of apparent progress on the prisoner exchange issue. According to unnamed sources who spoke to the channel, the agreement would allow Qatari cash for employees into Gaza by the end of the week.

An Israeli security official denied the report.

“The only agreement regards the entrance of fuel tomorrow, as mediated by the United Nations,” the security official said on condition of anonymity.

Hamas, a terror organization that avowedly seeks to destroy Israel, has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, when it wrested control of the enclave from its rival Fatah after a bloody series of clashes. Since Hamas’s takeover, Israel and Egypt have imposed a strict blockade on Gaza, which has had a devastating impact on the Strip’s economy.

Israel says that blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from massively arming itself with deadly weaponry.

Demands for Qatar to renew its aid were reportedly at the root of several rounds of escalation between Israel and Hamas before the recent operation. Hamas was said to hope that Jerusalem would pressure Doha into increasing the sum it sends to the coastal enclave in order to rid itself of the terror group’s fire at its south.

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