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Qatar-funded fuel enters Gaza via Israel for 1st time since May fighting

In apparent attempt to strengthen fragile ceasefire, Jerusalem allows gasoline through Kerem Shalom; said to convey to Hamas that all crossings will open if calm is maintained

A Hamas security officer checks a truck entering Gaza at the gate of the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing with Israel, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, June 21, 2021. (Adel Hana/AP)
Illustrative: A Hamas security officer checks a truck entering Gaza at the gate of the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing with Israel, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, June 21, 2021. (Adel Hana/AP)

Israel allowed 17 trucks carrying Qatar-funded gasoline to enter the Gaza Strip on Monday to fuel the enclave’s only power station, for the first time since May’s fighting.

The Kan public broadcaster reported on Monday that Palestinian sources told the Lebanese Al-Akbar newspaper that Egypt sent a message to the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers that if all remains quiet in the area Israel will fully open the border crossings into the enclave.

However, the sources said that Hamas responded by telling Cairo that it intends to keep up pressure on Israel, without clarifying what that entails.

The border crossings were shut after a soldier was lightly wounded in a mortar attack while assisting in the transfer of humanitarian aid shipments into the Gaza Strip through the Erez Crossing during the 11-day conflict in May. Last week Israeli relaxed some of the restrictions to allow some goods into Gaza.

Delivery of the fuel supplies came the day after Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, known by its acronym COGAT, said the continued entrance of Qatar-funded fuel will be “conditional on the preservation of security stability.”

Since 2018, Qatar has pumped money into Gaza to fund fuel subsidies, salaries for Hamas government employees, and stipends for poor families. At the beginning of 2021, Qatar announced that it hoped to provide $360 million in cash aid to Gazan families.

But the 11-day military conflict last month between Israel and terror groups in the Strip changed matters, and Israel has not agreed to allow Qatari subsidies into the enclave since then.

A convoy of trucks loaded with construction equipment provided by Egypt arrives at the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, on June 4, 2021. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The fuel is the first Qatari subsidy to enter Gaza since the May violence. The fighting cost the lives of 256 Palestinians and 14 in Israel. Israel says most of those killed in Gaza were combatants.

Israel has conditioned a full return to the previous status quo — including allowing Qatari cash into the Strip — on progress on a prisoner exchange deal between Jerusalem and Hamas.

Hamas, the terror group that rules the Strip, is holding two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers. Its leadership hopes to secure the freedom of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in an exchange.

The terror group, for its part, has demanded the lifting of restrictions without any connection to the potential for a prisoner exchange. The result is a fragile ceasefire between the two sides, international observers have warned.

A tanker delivers fuel to the Nuseirat power plant in the Gaza Strip on October 24, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The pro-Hamas Lebanese TV network Al-Mayadeen reported Sunday that Israel and Hamas had reached an initial deal to bring in Qatari money — despite the lack of apparent progress on the prisoner exchange issue. According to unnamed sources who spoke to the channel, the agreement would allow Qatari cash for employees into Gaza by the end of the week.

An Israeli security official denied the report.

“The only agreement regards the entrance of fuel tomorrow, as mediated by the United Nations,” the security official said on condition of anonymity.

Hamas, a terror organization that avowedly seeks to destroy Israel, has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, when it wrested control of the enclave from its rival Fatah after a bloody series of clashes. Since Hamas’s takeover, Israel and Egypt have imposed a strict blockade on Gaza, which has had a devastating impact on the Strip’s economy.

Israel says that blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from massively arming itself with deadly weaponry.

Demands for Qatar to renew its aid were reportedly at the root of several rounds of escalation between Israel and Hamas before the recent operation. Hamas was said to hope that Jerusalem would pressure Doha into increasing the sum it sends to the coastal enclave in order to rid itself of the terror group’s fire at its south.

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