Qatar’s ambassador to the Gaza Strip was set Monday to hand out $5.5 million in cash to needy families in the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave as the Gulf emirate continues its aid program for residents.
Envoy Mohammed al-Emadi arrived in Gaza the night before after bringing the money, in dollar bills, through Israeli territory.
Some 55,000 families were to receive $100 each. The money was to be distributed at post offices holding Qatari-controlled lists of those eligible for the aid, the Ynet news site reported.
It will be the second major Qatari payout to Gaza families following a similar mission six weeks ago, when Emadi handed out $100 to 94,000 families. The average wage in Gaza, where unemployment is over 50 percent, is around $360 a month, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
None of the Qatari money will go toward paying the salaries of Hamas-appointed civil servants, as it had in the past, the Ynet report said.
Emadi’s arrival came during a period of tension on the Israeli-Gazan border following several days of escalating violence. In addition to nightly rioting on the border, Gazans have fired a rocket and mortar shells, and floated balloon-borne bombs into southern Israel. Israel has responded to attacks with airstrikes on Hamas targets, including several sites hit early Sunday morning in response to a mortar attack the day before.
Qatar had pledged to send $15 million to Gaza monthly as part of an informal agreement between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group reached in November.
Under that deal, Israel allowed the grants to go through its territory in exchange for relative calm on the Gaza border.
Most of the funds from the first batches that arrived were used to pay the salaries of the Hamas-appointed civil servants, but around $5 million was earmarked every month for impoverished Gazans. Hamas was criticized from within Gaza for taking the money for its own officials.
The change to direct distribution to the needy came after Israel held up the delivery of the cash for several days in late January following a flareup of violence. Hamas then refused to accept the money, sparking fears of a breakdown of the unofficial truce.
At the time Emadi stressed that the money was not “calm in return for dollars” and that the Palestinians had the right to continue their protests, albeit without disrupting the border calm.
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.
An Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, Hamas seized control of Gaza from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction of the PLO in a violent coup in 2007.
Under Emadi’s supervision, Qatar has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into large-scale projects, including a new highway, state-of-the-art rehabilitation hospital and high-rise housing. Emadi, an architect, has been a frequent visitor to personally oversee some of the work.
In October Qatar started transferring around $10 million a month in fuel to Gaza’s only power station, in a bid to alleviate conditions in the Palestinian enclave. The shipments have allowed residents of the Strip to receive around eight hours of electricity a day, instead of the previous four.
But in February Qatar said it will not extend payments for the territory’s electricity supply beyond April, the Kan public broadcaster reported at the time.
Palestinian sources told Kan the move comes amid Qatari frustration with Hamas’s foot-dragging on several large projects in the Strip, including a long-delayed high-voltage power line from Israel that could double the Strip’s power.