Qatar wants Israeli permission to build airport in Gaza, envoy says

Doha’s point man for the Strip says airfield would be under his country’s security supervision, denies support for Hamas

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Mohammad al-Emadi, Qatar's point man for Gaza, speaking to a Palestinian news outlet in the coastal enclave. (Screenshot: YouTube)
Mohammad al-Emadi, Qatar's point man for Gaza, speaking to a Palestinian news outlet in the coastal enclave. (Screenshot: YouTube)

Qatar has asked Israel for permission to construct an airport in the Gaza Strip, which would be under its security supervision, Mohammed al-Emadi, Doha’s point man for the coastal enclave, told a Palestinian news site.

The Yasser Arafat International Airport opened in Gaza in November 1998, but it ceased operation during the Second Intifada in October 2000.

The airport, part of which was bombed by Israel in 2001 following a Palestinian terror attack, currently lies in devastation.

Emadi said Qatar’s proposal to Israel was building an airport that would “principally” be under its supervision, with all flights leaving and returning to Gaza going through Doha.

“The Israeli side was concerned about security. But we told them that it is possible to find a solution for security by planes going and returning to Gaza solely through Doha, under Qatari security supervision,” Emadi told Sawa, a Palestinian news site, which published the second installment of an interview with the Qatari envoy on Monday.

Palestinians dig through what was once the runway of Gaza’s bombed-out airport to collect rubble and gravel needed for construction in the war-ravaged territory, on the outskirts of Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, August 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

In the past couple of months, Qatar has worked with Israel to bring fuel into Gaza and, more recently, cash for Hamas-appointed civil servants’ salaries there.

Since the fuel started to flow into the Strip, protests in the border region between Israel and the coastal enclave, which have included many violent acts, have largely subsided. Since March 30, the protests have been taking place on a weekly basis.

Emadi added that Israel informed Qatar that its request to build an airport “would be studied.” He said Israel subsequently “procrastinated” making a response, and then offered Doha an airport in Israel for Palestinian use.

He said the Gulf state “immediately rejected” the Israeli offer.

Many Palestinians in Gaza struggle to travel abroad, as both Israel and Egypt only allow a limited number of people to exit the coastal enclave into their territories.

Israel says that its restrictions are in place to prevent Hamas, a terror group that seeks to destroy the Jewish state, and other terrorist groups in Gaza from undermining its security.

In October, some 20,000 Palestinians exited Gaza into Israel and Egypt, according to Gisha, an Israeli human rights group.

Emadi added that even though Israel has not approved the construction of an airport in Gaza, Doha will continue to request its permission.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the branch of the Defense Ministry responsible for liaising with the Palestinians, and the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on Emadi’s statements.

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzahi Hanegbi does not know about a Qatari request to build an airport in Gaza, a spokeswoman for the minister said.

Emadi also denied that Qatar supports Hamas, contending that Israel would not allow the Gulf country to provide aid to Gaza if it backed the terror group.

“If that were true, Israel would not allow me to move into and out of Gaza. If there was even one iota of doubt about Qatar’s role, Israel would not allow me to bring 15 million dollars in my car into the Strip,” Emadi said.

Twice in the past month, Emadi has brought $15 million in cash into Gaza for the civil servants’ salaries and another aid project.

A Palestinian Hamas-appointed government employee signs a document to receive 50 percent of her long-overdue salary, donated by Qatar, while others wait in the queue, at the main Gaza Post Office, in Gaza City, December 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Moreover, Emadi rejected accusations made by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority leadership that Qatar’s support for fuel and civil servant salaries in Gaza entrenches the split between Hamas and the PA’s Fatah.

“Gaza is under siege and collapsing financially. Should we help the residents of the Strip or not?” he said. “Is increasing the number of hours of electricity and paying salaries of employees leading to the strengthening of the split as they say? What Qatar is doing is providing for a dignified life for Palestinian citizens and helping to prepare a better atmosphere for Palestinian reconciliation.”

Azzam al-Ahmad, a top Palestine Liberation Organization and Fatah official, recently criticized Qatar for paying for fuel and civil servants’ salaries.

“The Palestinian leadership has told our brothers in Qatar that it is a mistake to channel funds to Hamas through Israel,” he told Palestine TV, the official PA station. “This will deepen the division among the Palestinians and give Israel an excuse to continue ignoring international resolutions.”

Hamas has controlled Gaza since it ousted the PA in 2007 from the territory.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership has long maintained that any foreign aid for Gaza should be distributed through the PA.

Emadi said he made an offer to the PA to send the funds for fuel and civil servant salaries through it, but the governing body turned it down.

Agencies contributed to this article.

Most Popular
read more: