Qatar pledges to continue paying Gazan poor for six months

Envoy Mohammed al-Emadi says if recent escalation between Israel and terror groups had continued for a few more hours, the world would have ‘witnessed humanitarian catastrophes’

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

A Palestinian man displays a 100 dollar bill, part of $480 million in aid allocated by Qatar, in Gaza City on May 13, 2019.  (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
A Palestinian man displays a 100 dollar bill, part of $480 million in aid allocated by Qatar, in Gaza City on May 13, 2019. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Qatar will continue to provide small grants to impoverished Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip over the coming six months, a Qatari diplomat said Tuesday evening.

In the past nine months, Doha has made $100 payouts to needy families in the coastal enclave on a number of occasions.

Qatar will continue its “monetary support to the poor and modest families for a period of six months,” Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi said at a press conference in Gaza City.

Emadi, who frequently liaises with Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Israel about Gaza, arrived in the coastal enclave early Monday morning after not visiting territory for some two months.

The Qatari envoy said the funds for the needy families will come from the $180 million the Gulf state pledged to send to the Strip last week, which he said “will directly serve Gaza.” However, he did not say how frequently Doha intends to provide small grants to impoverished families in the next six months or how large they would be.

The Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi, speaks during a press conference in Gaza City on May 14, 2019. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Over the past two days, under the supervision of the Qatari Gaza Reconstruction Committee, postal banks in the Strip have handed out $100 bills to tens of thousands of poor families.

Experts say the aid is desperately needed. A June 2018 United Nations report found that 53 percent of Palestinians in Gaza live in poverty.

According to the UN Relief and Works Agency, the main international organization that provides health, education and other services to Palestinian refugees, 80% of Gazans depend on international aid.

Palestinians stand in line outside the post office to receive cash aid, part of $480 million in aid allocated by Qatar, in Gaza City on May 13, 2019. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Last week, a senior Gaza-based official said in a phone call that Israel consented to the transfer of Qatari funds into the coastal enclave for impoverished families and other purposes as a part of a ceasefire agreement with terror groups in the territory, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

After two days of intense fighting earlier in May in which terror groups launched over 650 rockets at southern Israel and the Israel Defense Forces carried out more than 300 retaliatory strikes throughout Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad announced that Egypt and other international parties had successfully brokered a truce deal.

Smoke billows from a targeted neighborhood in Gaza City, during an Israeli airstrike on the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave, on May 5, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Emadi said that if the latest round of fighting “had continued for a few more hours, the world would have witnessed humanitarian catastrophes, with thousands made homeless, thousands of homes destroyed and thousands of civilians killed.”

The Qatari envoy added that both Israel and Hamas do not want to escalate tensions.

“The two sides do not want an escalation…In the last confrontation, there was a problem between a faction along the border,” he said, stuttering when mentioning the faction, which he declined to name.

“That is what caused the problems. The main two sides did not want to enter any confrontation,” he added.

The Israel Defense Forces accused the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad of being the main instigator of the violence in the last escalation, rather than Hamas, which rules Gaza.

A Palestinian man holds up a banner bearing protest slogans as he stands on the rubble of a destroyed building during a demonstration commemorating the 71st anniversary of the “Nakba” in Gaza City on May 14, 2019. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Israel and terror groups in Gaza have fought three wars in the past eleven years and numerous smaller skirmishes. Israel has normally pointed a finger at Hamas, a terror group sworn to Israel’s destruction, as responsible for any violence emanating from the Strip.

Emadi suggested that Doha does not intend to cover the salaries of the Hamas-appointed civil servants in the coming days.

“We will discuss these salaries later on,” he said, adding that he thinks Hamas authorities will not “have a problem covering the salaries” themselves after Qatar pays out the funds it has pledged to do so for fuel and other humanitarian projects.

In late 2018, Qatar paid out $10 million on two occasions to cover the salaries of most of the Hamas-appointed civil servants. Israel’s government was harshly criticized at home for allowing the money to go to Hamas.

Power and a field hospital

The Qatari diplomat said that Doha would also use the $180 million it allocated to Gaza to continue to pay for fuel to power the Strip’s sole power plant until the end of 2019.

Since October 2018, Israel has also allowed for Qatari-purchased fuel to enter Gaza to run the power plant, significantly increasing the hours of electricity many Palestinian families in the territory receive daily.

Israeli trucks carrying diesel fuel enter the Kerem Shalom crossing on the Israel-Gaza border, October 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Emadi said Qatar would also put aside $50-60 million of the $180 million to support a 161 kilo-volt power line, which the Quartet — the US, Russia, UN and EU — has said could eventually provide an additional 100 megawatt hours of electricity to Gaza.

Gaza currently receives some 190 megawatt hours of power, even though its average demand ranges between 500-550 megawatt hours.

Part of the 161 kV power infrastructure has been built, but significant work needs to be completed before the Israel Electric Corporation can start to feed electricity through it from the Jewish state to Gaza, Mohammed Thabet, a spokesman for the Gaza Electric Distribution Company, said in a phone call.

The Qatari envoy added that the funds Qatar pledged to send to Gaza last week would also support United Nations-supervised cash-for-work programs.

A number of Palestinians in Gaza recently started temporary jobs as a part of the cash-for-work programs.

A protester hurls stones at Israeli troops as a woman wearing a traditional Palestinian outfit waves a national flag, during a demonstration near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on May 10, 2019. (Said KHATIB / AFP)

Emadi noted that Qatar, in coordination with what he called “the American institution for humanitarianism,” would start work on building a field hospital on 40 dunams (10 acres) in northern Gaza.

In the past year, thousands of Palestinians have suffered injuries as a result of Israeli gunfire at protests in the border area between Gaza and Israel, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The protests along the frontier, which have included many acts of violence against Israeli security forces, have demanded Israel lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza and called for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now a part of the Jewish state.

Israeli officials say that the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants would destroy Israel’s Jewish character. They also maintain that the restrictions on movement are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip.

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