Thousands of impoverished Gazans received $100 payments from Qatar on Saturday, after the Gulf emirate brought in over $9 million in aid funds for the Hamas-run Palestinian territory.
Hundreds of people queued at post offices in the Gaza Strip to each collect a $100 bill.
Palestinian media earlier quoted the Qatari ambassador to Gaza as saying the money would go to Gaza’s poor.
“The Qatari grant for needy families will enter Gaza Saturday and be distributed… to 94,000 families,” Mohammed Al-Emadi was quoted as saying.
Half the funds would be distributed Saturday and the rest Sunday, he said, with each family receiving $100.
Qatar had pledged to send $15 million to Gaza monthly as part of an informal agreement between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group reached in November.
Under that deal, Israel allowed the grants to go through its territory in exchange for relative calm on the Gaza border.
Most of the funds were used to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants but around $5 million monthly was for impoverished Gazans. Hamas was criticized from within Gaza for taking the money for its own officials.
The change to direct distribution to the needy came after Israel held up the delivery of the cash for several days earlier this week following a flare up of violence. Hamas then refused to accept the money, sparking fears of a breakdown in an unofficial truce.
Qatar announced Friday that it would now use the money for humanitarian projects in coordination with the United Nations.
Speaking at a press conference, Al-Emadi stressed that the aid money from the Gulf state was not an attempt to buy the silence of border protesters, and added that he affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to demonstrate. However, he said he hoped Friday’s protests would remain calm.
“It was interpreted and exploited by some parties that [Qatar’s monthly payments to Gaza] is ‘calm in return for dollars’ and that it was in order to break the will of the Palestinian people and cast doubt on their nationalism and the nationalism of the resistance factions. And that is not correct,” Al-Emadi said in Gaza City.
Al-Emadi spelled out Saturday that Qatar will no longer fund Hamas salaries. We “will not pay the salaries of the Hamas employees,” he told AFP.
Late Friday afternoon, some 10,000 Gazans gathered at the border, some of them burning tires and throwing stones at soldiers. Hadashot TV news said grenades were also thrown at troops during the border riots. The Hamas-run health ministry said that one person was killed and 23 were injured in clashes with troops and an ambulance was hit by a tear gas canister.
Ehab Abed, 25, was “killed by Israeli occupation fire east of Rafah,” health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said in a statement.
Al-Emadi’s press conference came after a Lebanese newspaper reported that Hamas had sent a warning to Israel that it would respond forcefully and immediately to any attack on the Gaza Strip.
Quoting an unnamed source in the Gaza-ruling terror group, the Al-Akhbar daily also said Hamas had refused to accept aid money from Qatar because Israel put new conditions on its transfer.
The source said these conditions included Israel’s objection to using the $15 million in monthly Qatari funds to pay the salaries of a number of top Hamas members.
Hamas’s rejection of the money from Qatar stoked fears in Israel of renewed violence on the Gaza border, which has seen large-scale weekly clashes since last year and periodic flareups between the Israeli military and Palestinian terror organizations.
An Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, Hamas seized control of Gaza from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction of the PLO in a violent coup in 2007.