Qatar diverts payment of $15m from Hamas to UN Gaza projects

Hamas rejects monthly fund paid via Israel over policy of ‘extortion and dictates’

A  Palestinian protester throws back a tear gas canister towards Israeli forces during clashes after a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on January 25th, 2019. Photograph: Mahmud Hams/AFP

A Palestinian protester throws back a tear gas canister towards Israeli forces during clashes after a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on January 25th, 2019. Photograph: Mahmud Hams/AFP

 

Qatar has decided to divert its monthly payment of funds for Gaza to United Nations-administered humanitarian projects in the Strip, after the Palestinian territory’s Hamas rulers refused to accept the funds.

Mohammed al-Emadi, a Qatari mediator, after clinching Hamas’s approval for the new policy, also called for calm along the border after Hamas had vowed to escalate the weekly demonstrations to protest against Israel holding up the cash transfers.

At least one Palestinian was killed by Israeli army fire and more than 20 hurt as some 10,000 Palestinians participated in border protests on Friday.

Israel had sent reinforcements to the border.

The heightened tension came after Hamas rejected the Qatar cash transfer and sent a warning to Israel that it will respond forcefully and immediately to any attack on the Gaza Strip.

Third instalment

Under the terms of an Egyptian and UN-mediated deal to ensure quiet on the border, where protests have taken place since March 2018, Qatar agreed to make six monthly transfers of $15 million (€13 million) to the Hamas authorities in Gaza.

Israel’s permission is required since the cash must be delivered via its territory.

The third instalment was due to be paid earlier this month but Israel delayed the transfer after a number of exchanges of fire with militants along the border.

The Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Fawzi Barhoum, said it had been decided to reject Israel’s policy of “extortion and dictates” and Hamas demanded that a regular, binding date be set for the Qatari cash transfers.

Khalil al-Hayya, Hamas’s deputy head in Gaza, also accused Israel of “playing politics” with the funds ahead of elections in April.

Humanitarian aid

After eventually agreeing to transfer the money, Israeli officials pressed for some of the funds, earmarked primarily for civil service salaries, to be diverted for humanitarian aid, whereas Hamas rejected out of hand any possibility of Israel influencing how the money is distributed.

Hamas’s rejection of the funds raised fears of a resumption of large-scale border clashes, ahead of the weekly Friday protests. Israel even deployed missile defence batteries in the Tel Aviv area, fearing a resumption of militant rocket fire.

Israeli defence officials expressed concern that the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad militant group could fire a longer-range missile from Gaza into Israel’s densely populated greater Tel Aviv metropolis.

The Israeli opposition lambasted the decision to transfer the Qatari money to the Gaza Strip and accused prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu of capitulating to Hamas.

Labour Party leader Avi Gabbay called the decision “disgraceful”.

“Netanyahu is bribing Hamas with $15 million, but even the terrorists aren’t willing to accept the cash-filled briefcases,” he said.