Israeli minister: Qatar making true effort to stop Gaza aid from boosting Hamas
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Israeli minister: Qatar making true effort to stop Gaza aid from boosting Hamas

Tzachi Hanegbi confirms meeting with Doha envoy last month, says Gulf state’s overtures may be tied to recent diplomatic pressure

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi on Friday said Qatar was “endeavoring hugely to ensure its aid” to the Gaza Strip “does not end up as any Hamas force build-up.”

According to Reuters, Hanegbi told 102FM radio: “We know this, we supervise this and we approve this, because they really are doing construction — the construction of neighborhoods.”

Hanegbi confirmed that he met with a Qatari envoy during the latter’s visit to Jerusalem last month.

Hangebi said the meeting with Doha’s envoy to Gaza Mohammed Al-Emadi came as part of an effort “to expand our diplomatic horizon with Middle East states that, for practical and formal reasons, cannot have above-the-radar relations” with the Jewish state.

Qatar’s ambassador to Gaza Mohammed al-Emadi speaks during a press conference with UN Special Coordinator for the United Nations for the peace process in the Middle East, in Gaza City, on July 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

During his visit to Jerusalem in February al-Emadi had stated that he met with Hanegbi. The minister expressed surprise at the admission.

“Usually there is an agreement that a meeting of this kind remains secret. But they decided [to come forward with it] and that’s their prerogative,” he told 102FM.

He noted that Qatar’s recent efforts to stay on Israel’s good side may be tied to diplomatic pressure from the US, as well as by Arab nations.

In June 2017, Egypt and three Arab countries — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — announced that they had decided to sever diplomatic relations with Qatar. The four countries cited Qatar’s continuing support for “terrorism,” including the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now banned in Egypt.

“They are in distress, as most of the countries in the Arab world boycott them because they flirt too much with terrorism, with Hamas, with all kinds of episodes that border on subversion,” Hanegbi said.

Al-Emadi said last month that it was the international community’s responsibility to come to Gaza’s aid. He called on Israel and Hamas to take steps to improve conditions, and he criticized the recent US decision to cut aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, calling it “devastating.”

“The people of the world should be awakened to save Gaza and to prevent a new war,” he said. He said the cost of helping Gaza is “nothing” compared to the cost of another war.

Qatar has played a leading role in the reconstruction of Gaza following a devastating war between Israel and Hamas in 2014. Al-Emadi, an architect and owner of a large construction firm, heads Qatar’s Gaza Reconstruction Committee.

Palestinians collect food aid at a United Nations food distribution center in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The committee has funded hundreds of millions of dollars of projects, including new roads, housing projects, and hospitals. But after his latest visit to Gaza, al-Emadi said the focus is on basic humanitarian aid.

Qatar recently delivered some $9 million to pay for hospital fuel, medical supplies and other emergency goods. But al-Emadi said his country, an energy-rich Gulf state, cannot sustain Gaza on its own.

Gaza’s problems took a significant downturn after Hamas, an Islamic terror group sworn to Israel’s destruction, seized the territory from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Since then, repeated attempts at Palestinian reconciliation have failed. Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade to weaken Hamas, which has long utilized its border crossings to smuggle weapons that it then uses to fire at Israel, with whom the terror group has fought three wars.

Today, unemployment hovers at well over 40 percent, tap water is undrinkable and residents receive just a few hours of electricity a day.

Al-Emadi, who visits Gaza every few months, said he was struck by how bad conditions have become on his latest visit.

He said that while in Gaza this time, he was unable to leave his hotel room, because his car was surrounded by people desperately asking for help in a scene he described as heartbreaking.

AP contributed to this report.

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