Qatar’s ambassador to the Gaza Strip was due to distribute $5.5 million in cash to needy families in the Hamas-ruled Palestinian enclave on Monday as the Gulf emirate continues its resident aid program.
Envoy Mohammed al-Emadi arrived in Gaza the previous night after smuggling the money, in dollars, 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 people eligible for aid, the Ynet news site reported.
This will be Qatar’s second major payout to families in Gaza after a similar mission six weeks ago, when Emadi distributed $100 to 94,000 families. The average salary in Gaza, where unemployment exceeds 50%, is around $360 a month, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
None of the Qatari money will be used to pay the salaries of Hamas-appointed officials, as was the case in the past, according to the Ynet report.
Emadi’s arrival came at a time of tension on the Israel-Gaza border after several days of escalating violence. In addition to the nightly riots on the border, Gazans fired rocket and mortar shells, and launched balloon-borne bombs into southern Israel. Israel responded to the 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 every month as part of an informal agreement between Israel and the Gaza-ruling terror group Hamas reached in November.
As part of the deal, Israel allowed grants to pass 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 Hamas-appointed officials, but about $5 million each month was earmarked for poor Gazans. Hamas has been criticized from inside Gaza for taking the money for its own officials.
The shift to direct distribution to the needy came after Israel suspended delivery of the cash for several days in late January following an outbreak of violence. Hamas then refused to accept the money, raising fears of a breach of the unofficial truce.
At the time, Emadi stressed that money was not “calm in exchange for dollars” and that Palestinians had the right to continue their protests, but without disturbing the calm at the border.
Hamas’ rejection of Qatari money has fueled fears in Israel of renewed violence on the Gaza border, which has seen large-scale weekly clashes since last year and periodic flare-ups between the Israeli army and Palestinian terrorist organizations.
An Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, Hamas seized control of Gaza from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction of the PLO in a violent coup in 2007.
Under Emadi’s supervision, Qatar has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in large-scale projects, including a new highway, a state-of-the-art rehabilitation hospital and high-rise buildings. Emadi, an architect, was a frequent visitor to personally supervise some works.
In October, Qatar began transferring around $10 million a month in fuel to Gaza’s power plant alone, in a bid to improve conditions in the Palestinian enclave. The shipments allowed residents of the Strip to receive approximately eight hours of electricity per day, instead of the previous four.
But in February, Qatar announced that it do 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 that Hamas is dragging its feet on several major projects in the Strip, including a long-delayed high-voltage power line from Israel that could double the power of the tape.