Qatar, Hamas seek to bypass Israeli curbs on cash funding for Gaza

Under reported emerging deal, Qatari-funded fuel from Egypt will be sold in the Palestinian coastal enclave, with proceeds going to pay civil servant wages

A fuel truck with a Qatari flag enters the Nusseirat power plant, in the central Gaza Strip, on June 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Illustrative: A fuel truck with a Qatari flag in the central Gaza Strip, June 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Qatar and the Hamas terror group are reportedly working on an agreement that will use Qatari-funded fuel to pay the wages of civil servants in the Gaza Strip.

The scheme would circumvent Israeli restrictions on Qatari funding, which were imposed earlier this year over concerns that come of the cash was being used to fund terror activities.

Under the terms, reported by the Reuters news agency Monday, every month up to $10 million of fuel paid for by Qatar will be sent from Egypt across the border into Gaza.

The fuel will then be sold to local gas stations, with the proceeds used to pay the wages of Hamas civil servants, the report said.

Qatar is a key backer of Hamas, the Islamist terror group that controls the Gaza Strip.

According to Salama Marouf, director of Gaza’s government media office, the cash will be enough to pay the wages of around 40,000 civil servants.

“Qatar will pay the equivalent of its monthly aid to Gaza civil servants, which is between $7 and $10 million, in fuel,” Marouf said.

After crossing the border with Egypt the fuel will be sold and “the proceeds will then go to the treasury of the Gaza finance ministry, which will later pay it out to employees,” he explained.

Qatar announced last Wednesday that it had signed agreements with Egypt for fuel and building materials to be sent to Gaza.

But a source told Reuters that the fuel-cash scheme has not yet been finalized as there is an ongoing discussion between Qatar and Hamas over monitoring that Doha is seeking to ensure the funds go to the intended civil servants and not elsewhere.

Qatari officials did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment on the report. Spokespeople for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the Defense Ministry likewise declined to comment, according to the report.

Palestinian security forces stand guard as Egyptian trucks carrying fuel drive down a street after entering the southern Gaza Strip from Egypt through the Rafah border crossing on June 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Earlier this month the United States and Qatar said that they remain “deeply concerned” about the humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and Gaza.

Qatari support is considered a crucial lifeline for impoverished Palestinians living in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since 2007, seen by Israel as a necessary measure to limit the ability of Gaza’s terror groups to arm themselves.

Israel had been allowing millions in Qatari cash to flow through Israeli crossings into Gaza on a monthly basis since 2018, in order to maintain a fragile ceasefire with Hamas. As of early 2021, some $30 million in cash was being delivered in suitcases to Gaza each month through an Israeli-controlled crossing.

But Israel had objected to a resumption of the funding under the terms that existed before a round of intense fighting between Israel and Hamas in May, claiming money was being used by terror groups rather than strictly for humanitarian needs.

The stalemate was resolved in August, when Israel and Qatar announced the approval of a new mechanism to distribute the funds, with money transferred directly to individuals by the UN. The first distributions of Qarai cash to needy families were then made in October.

Under the scheme, Israeli-approved recipients in Gaza were issued UN credit cards to withdraw the funds.

Palestinians receive financial aid payments from Qatar at a post office in Gaza City, on June 27, 2020. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The renewed policy has sparked controversy within Israel, with critics accusing the government of bowing to Hamas pressure.

Bennett has vowed to end such deliveries since becoming prime minister in June and the new government has excoriated former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of “suitcases full of cash” for the Hamas employees.

Qatar has also pledged some $500 million for Gaza’s reconstruction after the coastal enclave was battered by Israeli airstrikes during the 11 days of hostilities in May.

The Gulf state had already pledged $360 million in aid to Gaza at the beginning of the year.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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