Qatari envoy says funds for Hamas helping prevent new Gaza war

As his country distributes $10 million to 100,000 needy families in the Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi contends both Israel and Gaza-based terror group committed to truce

The Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi, speaks during an interview in his office with AFP in Gaza City on August 24, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
The Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi, speaks during an interview in his office with AFP in Gaza City on August 24, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Qatar’s envoy to Gaza says the Gulf emirate’s hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Strip and its contacts with both terror group Hamas and Israel are helping prevent another catastrophic war.

Speaking in an interview with AFP in Gaza City, Mohammed al-Emadi said a new payment of $10 million is expected to be distributed on Sunday to 100,000 poor families in Gaza, which has been run by Hamas since it took over in a bloody coup in 2007.

It is the latest in a succession of aid payments meant to cover fuel for electricity, salaries and assistance for needy families in the Gaza Strip from Qatar, which has budgeted some $330 million for the program launched last year.

More than $150 million of that has been spent, on top of other large amounts of aid that Qatar has provided to Gaza in recent years, he said.

“The money is essential… because otherwise Gaza will be a place where nobody can survive or live,” Emadi said from his office in Al-Mashtal Hotel late Saturday during one of his periodic visits to Gaza City.

“We know the situation is very bad, so that’s why our money helps a lot, and it helps in preventing a new war.”

He added that it is “not only the aid.”

“The aid, the communication, the information… We are coordinating directly with the people who can take decisions.”

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

‘Will be catastrophic’

The payments are part of a wider agreement brokered by UN and Egyptian officials to end several violent flareups in recent months between Israel and Hamas, which have fought three devastating wars since 2008, and to help stabilize the territory and prevent a humanitarian collapse.

The payment to 100,000 families marks an increase in the number of beneficiaries over the last two payments, when 60,000 families received disbursements.

A series of violent incidents in August have again threatened the truce just ahead of Israel’s September 17 general election, but the new Qatari cash may help relative calm return, at least for now.

The incidents have included rocket fire from Gaza at Israeli cities, infiltration attempts by armed Palestinians planning attacks in Israel and return fire by the Israel Defense Forces, the army says.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is widely seen as wanting to avoid an escalation in Gaza before the polls due to the political risk involved, but he has faced calls for strong action from his electoral opponents.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on July 23, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

As a result, there has been speculation in Israel that Hamas has turned a blind eye to rocket fire and infiltration attempts instead of preventing them in a bid to pressure Netanyahu into further concessions.

But Emadi has contended that “both sides are committed (to the truce) and they have no war intentions at all,” adding in a separate interview with the Reuters news agency Saturday that “there is a lack of money and the humanitarian situation is bad. Should people feel financially at ease, the ghost of war will be totally removed.”

Analysts say that Hamas is desperately trying to prevent another round of hostilities with Israel in light of the Qatari money flowing into the Strip along with new reported plans to rebuild Gazan infrastructure.

For Emadi, the election means longer-term solutions cannot be discussed for now due to political sensitivity, but he hopes talks can later be held on easing the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, imposed to prevent Hamas — which openly seeks Israel’s destruction — from arming.

Another war would cost the international community far more in monetary terms, he said, but the humanitarian concerns are even greater, particularly with Gaza still recovering from the last conflict in 2014.

“Any new war with this situation, I think it will be catastrophic to Gaza and to the people of Gaza,” Emadi told AFP.

Emadi said he meets with leaders of both Hamas’s political and military wings while also holding separate discussions with Israeli officials.

Qatar, like most Arab nations, has no formal diplomatic relations with Israel, and Emadi declined to say specifically who he holds talks with on the Israeli side.

A Palestinian worker checks a truck carrying United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) aid supplies that arrived through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel to the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on May 12, 2019. (SAID KHATIB/AFP)

‘Nobody cares’

The Gulf state is a rare ally for Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, and which avowedly seeks to destroy Israel.

Hamas on Friday praised the perpetrators of a terror bombing in the West Bank that claimed the life of a 17-year-old Israeli girl and seriously injured her father and brother.

The more than decade-long blockade of the Gaza Strip and repeated wars have taken a heavy toll on the economy and infrastructure in the coastal enclave of two million people.

According to the World Bank, unemployment is at 52 percent, with two-thirds of Gaza’s young people jobless.

The Qatari fuel aid has allowed for an average of around 10 hours of public electricity per day, compared to as little as four hours daily previously, UN figures show.

The truce has also seen Israel expand the area it allows Gaza fishermen out into the sea — though it reduces it or even cuts it to zero in response to violence from the enclave.

Emadi said issues such as work permits for Gazans to enter Israel have also been discussed.

“Nobody cares about the people in this place,” he said when asked why Qatar was playing the role it has, with speculation that it has been a means to wield regional influence.

“Our concern is the people — to save lives, to provide better lives for these people.”

That aspect has been “forgotten from both sides, let’s say.”

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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