Qatar envoy says UN to take over Gaza cash distribution, as 1 killed in clashes

Money could go through as soon as Monday and will now go to humanitarian aid; 23 hurt as 10,000 protest on border

Mohammed al-Emadi, chairman of Qatar's National Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza, speaks at a press conference in Gaza City on January 25, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Mohammed al-Emadi, chairman of Qatar's National Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza, speaks at a press conference in Gaza City on January 25, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi said at a Gaza press conference on Friday that the UN would take over distribution of aid money from the Gulf state and it would now be used to ease humanitarian conditions in the Hamas-run coastal enclave.

“The first project will be signed with the UN on Monday at a value of $20 million for a temporary cash-for-work program to last four to six months,” he said.

The change came after Israel held up the delivery of the cash for several days following a flare up of violence. Hamas then refused to accept the money, sparking fears of a breakdown in an unofficial truce.

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.

As of late Friday afternoon, some 10,000 people 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 had been 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.

A Palestinian protester throws back a tear gas canister towards Israeli forces during clashes following a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on January 25, 2019. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

The envoy said the aid was not meant to bribe the Palestinians into 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.

The Gulf envoy noted that Hamas confirmed to him that it will not accept the money and he notably did not make any mention of the funds being used for Hamas salaries as they have in the past, instead saying they will be funneled to humanitarian projects in coordination with the United Nations.

A Palestinian man transports bags of flour outside an aid distribution center run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 20, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP

“It was agreed to allocate the funds of the Qatari grant to humanitarian projects in complete cooperation and coordination with the UN, whether that is to aid poor families or to improve and develop the electrical grid or projects that serve the [Hamas-run Gaza] health ministry, or cash for work,” he clarified.

Al-Emadi’s press conference came after a Lebanese newspaper reported that Hamas had sent a warning to Israel that it will 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.

Israel had temporarily held up the transfer of the Qatari aid following a pair of shooting attacks on the border Tuesday, but on Thursday gave its approval. Hamas announced shortly after it would not take the funds, accusing Israel of violating a ceasefire agreement.

Hamas government employees wait to receive 60 percent of their long-overdue salaries, at the main Gaza Post Office, in Gaza City, November 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

According to Al-Akhbar, Al-Emadi told Hamas that Israel was on high alert in case of a military conflict with armed groups in Gaza. The daily said Hamas, for its part, warned its response would be harsher than a massive exchange of fire between the sides in November that saw the largest number of rockets shot toward Israel since the 2014 Gaza war.

That round of violence came after a special forces operation in the Strip went awry, in which an Israeli commando was killed and at least seven Hamas fighters died in ensuing firefights.

In light of the renewed tensions on the border, the Israeli military on Thursday began beefing up its troop presence near Gaza. It also deployed Iron Dome missile defense batteries in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and in the south as a precautionary measure against potential attack from either the Gaza Strip or from the north, where the security situation has also been increasingly precarious.

Israeli soldiers stand near a battery of the Iron Dome missile defense system deployed in Tel Aviv on January 24, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Defense officials reportedly fear that the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad terror group could fire a longer-range missile from Gaza into Israel’s densely populated heartland.

Israeli officials are also worried that fighters in the Strip could carry out cross-border shooting attacks, either with light arms or anti-tank missiles, the Ynet news website reported. Some roads near the Gaza fence were closed off Friday.

Under the unofficial ceasefire arrangement between Israel and Hamas, Doha agreed to transfer a total of $90 million to Gaza in monthly installments of $15 million. Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, received the funds, in $100 bills, in November and December.

The monthly payments, $10 million of which went to Hamas civil servants and the rest to needy residents in the Strip, were seen by defense analysts as key to calming tensions between Israel and the Palestinian enclave.

According to reports, Hamas had been trying to calm the situation after the Tuesday flareup to allow the money through, but the use of the cash as a carrot had increased pressure on the group to reject it and take a harder line toward Israel.

Palestinians take cover behind a dirt mound as they raise their national flag during clashes along the Israeli fence east of Gaza City, on January 18, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Israel has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of using the border demonstrations since last March as a cover for attacks on troops and attempts to breach the security fence.

Over 200 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more injured along the Gaza border by Israeli troops since March, according to statistics from the United Nations and the Strip’s Hamas-run health ministry. Hamas has claimed many of the dead as its members.

An IDF soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July during a riot along the security fence. A Palestinian man living in Israel was also killed by a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip in November. On Tuesday, an Israeli commander was hit in the helmet by a bullet fired by a Gaza sniper.

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