The director of the Mossad spy agency has been in talks with a series of senior Qatari officials in an effort to convince Doha to continue making monthly cash transfers to Gaza, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported Tuesday against the backdrop of a surge in arson balloon attacks on Israel.
With Israel’s approval, Qatar since 2018 has periodically provided millions of dollars in cash to Gaza’s Hamas rulers to pay for fuel for the Strip’s power plant, allow the group to pay its civil servants and provide aid to tens of thousands of impoverished families.
Israel has reportedly done so in exchange for Hamas ensuring calm in the south and as part of efforts to reach a long-term ceasefire with the terror group.
In March, Qatar agreed to a Hamas request to extend the payments for an additional six months. But with those transfers slated to expire next month and Qatar mired in the economic ramifications of the pandemic along withe the rest of the world, Hamas is reportedly concerned that the payments will cease in September. The last transfer was made late last month during the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.
According to the Kan report, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen has been seeking to convince Qatar to agree to another six month extension of the payments.
This is not the first time Cohen has reportedly sought to pressure Qatar regarding the transfers. Last February, Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman revealed that Cohen and the top officer of the Israel Defense Forces in charge of Gaza, Herzi Halevi, visited Qatar earlier that month on the instructions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to plead with its leaders to continue their periodical payments to Hamas.
Also on Tuesday, Israeli leaders threatened Hamas that Jerusalem would take “forceful” action if a rash of airborne arson attacks is not brought under control, as incendiary balloons continued to fly following Israel’s shuttering of a key crossing into the Palestinian territory.
Balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from the Gaza Strip sparked at least 60 fires in southern Israel throughout the day, according to firefighters. Officials said most were small fires, but some caused damage.
Tensions on the Gaza border have intensified in recent days, with balloon-borne incendiary devices igniting a number of fires across southern Israel. Hamas has also threatened to renew rocket fire and there have been a number of small fire exchanges. No injuries have been reported.
Some reports have attributed the renewal of the arson balloon launches to the Qatari funds while others have cited Hamas sources stating that it is in response to Israel’s refusal to ease restrictions on the coastal enclave and allow for major rehabilitation projects.
In response to the fires, Israel announced Monday it was shutting the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing into Gaza, halting all goods but fuel, humanitarian products and food.
On Tuesday Hamas called the closure of the commercial crossing an aggressive action and a crime for which the Jewish state “bears all consequences and repercussions.”
Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoun said the “use of tools and forms of struggle to express a state of anger” is a natural result of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The practice of launching balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices from the Gaza Strip toward Israel has waxed and waned over the past two years, with an uptick since the end of last week.