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Qatar restarts distributing aid to needy Gazans, minus the suitcases of cash

Money disbursed through supermarkets, money exchange shops and other stores; no final agreement on aid for Hamas’ government payroll

A Palestinian man receives financial aid at a supermarket in Gaza City, on September 15, 2021, as part of the UN's Humanitarian Cash Assistance program, supported by the state of Qatar. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
A Palestinian man receives financial aid at a supermarket in Gaza City, on September 15, 2021, as part of the UN's Humanitarian Cash Assistance program, supported by the state of Qatar. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Qatar resumed its distribution of aid to Gaza on Wednesday for the first time since the May conflict between Israel and the territory’s terror groups, this time through a new mechanism that does not involve suitcases full of cash.

The Hamas-run government’s official news agency said that the money is being disbursed through supermarkets, money exchange shops and other retail stores in a process that will continue over the coming days. The United Nations has said that the funding amounts to $40 million.

The aid is part of an informal truce brokered by Egypt and the UN in recent years, in which the Hamas terror group, the Strip’s rulers, traded calm for the easing of a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt when it seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Israel views the blockade 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.

Since an 11-day conflict in May, Israel has blocked the payments and imposed heightened restrictions on the enclave.

The renewed policy has sparked controversy within Israel, with critics seizing on the optics and accusing the government of bowing to Hamas pressure. Naftali Bennett has vowed to end such deliveries since becoming prime minister in June.

A Palestinian man receives financial aid at a supermarket in Gaza City, on September 15, 2021, as part of the UN’s Humanitarian Cash Assistance program, supported by the state of Qatar. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The Qatari aid went to some 100,000 needy families and to pay the salaries of civil servants in the Hamas-run government. There is not yet an agreement on the aid for Hamas’ government payroll.

The new government has excoriated former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of “suitcases full of cash” for the Hamas employees.

Bennett and other senior Israeli officials have repeatedly vowed that there will be no return to Netanyahu’s Gaza policy, adopting the slogan “there’s no going back to the way things were.”

A Palestinian man receives financial aid at a supermarket in Gaza City, on September 15, 2021, as part of the UN’s Humanitarian Cash Assistance program, supported by the state of Qatar. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

“There will be no return to the previous framework,” Bennett’s office said in a statement on Sunday.

But the Prime Minister’s Office did not explicitly rule out the use of cash transfers in general, saying only that Israeli security officials were “examining various alternatives.”

“When a proper outline is found that ensures that the money does not go to terrorist activities, it will be presented by the defense minister to the prime minister,” Bennett’s office said.

In the wake of the Gaza war, the United States pledged to work with the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority to rebuild Gaza. But the PA, which has been confined to the West Bank since the Hamas takeover, withdrew from the aid agreement.

As a result, the UN announced on Monday that the Qatari funds would be distributed through the same mechanism its agencies use in the territory.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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