Emir of Qatar to be first head of state to visit Gaza

GAZA Sun Oct 21, 2012 7:51pm EDT

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GAZA (Reuters) - The emir of pro-Western Qatar will become the first head of state to enter the blockaded Gaza Strip on Tuesday, in a high-profile visit breaking the isolation of the Iranian-backed Islamist movement Hamas that seized power in 2007.

Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani is officially visiting the Palestinian enclave to inaugurate reconstruction projects worth over $250 million, which an envoy of his oil-rich, conservative Arab emirate unveiled in Gaza last week.

But his trip will be loaded with political symbolism. The emir will be the first foreign leader to go to Gaza under the rule of Hamas, a militant movement that is outlawed by Israel and the West as a terrorist organization, but whose influence and aspirations in the Middle East conflict may be hard to ignore.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh issued a statement confirming the visit and urging "our people to express their good hospitality in welcoming the great visitor of Gaza".

Security was already being reinforced in places where the emir is expected to make a stop on the way from the Egyptian land border crossing at Rafah. Gaza, under partial blockade by Israel and Egypt, has no airport or seaport.


Some Palestinians put up Qatari flags in the streets of Gaza city. Others attacked the visit on social networks, questioning Qatar's intentions. Some posted pictures on their Facebook pages of the emir side-by-side with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Israel and Gaza are in a state of perpetual low-level conflict, marked by sporadic rocket attacks from Gaza by Islamic militant groups and air strikes by the Israeli forces. Hamas refuses to accept the existence of the Jewish state.

Israel admits tonnes of food aid, consumer goods and fuel into Gaza, but tightly restricts movements of people and anything that might be used for military purposes. However, Qatar's envoy last week indicated that Israel had agreed to permit the import of huge quantities of cement, steel and building machinery that will be need to build new roads and housing.

Gaza was badly damaged in a three-week onslaught by Israel in 2008-2009 to stop rockets being fired at southern Israeli communities. Over 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the brief conflict.

The Palestinian Wafa news agency said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose pro-Western Fatah movement was forcibly ejected from Gaza by Hamas in 2007, was told of the Qatari visit in a phone call from the emir in Doha.

Sheik al-Thani "told him of his desire to visit Gaza Strip to inaugurate some projects to reconstruct the strip", Wafa said in a report from the West Bank, where Abbas holds limited power, under Israeli occupation.

"The president welcomed the effort by Qatar to support Gaza Strip, stressing on the unity of Palestinian land and ending division," the agency added. It said Abbas urged Hamas to implement signed agreements for the reconciliation of the two rival movements.

But Gaza and West Bank analysts say reconciliation is not on the cards. Hamas is shifting its ties away from Shi'ite Muslim Iran and wooing Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, its true spiritual mentor, which now runs the country.

The Palestinian Islamist movement feels the wind in its sails and will use this major injection of Qatari aid and the visit of the emir to demonstrate that it has powerful friends, despite its isolation by the West, say analysts.

Abbas and Fatah, by contrast, have reached a dead end in efforts to revive peace talks with Israel that were suspended two years ago, and have been weakened politically.

The emir is due to fly to Egypt's eastern al-Arish airport and drive into Gaza. Details of his schedule and itinerary were not released.

(Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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Comments (2)
McBob08 wrote:
There’s a funny thing about people of any type; when invaders are occupying their land — invaders forced on them by more powerful nations — and those invaders keep stealing more and more of your land, keep killing your people and calling it “retaliation” for things that haven’t even happened yet; ignore all attempts to come to a peaceful resolution; show that they only understand the language of force and violence…

well, people eventually step up and do something about it. Of course, as soon as they do, they’re labelled as terrorists. Has Hamas done some horrible things? Yes! But Israel and the West has done horrible things to them. It doesn’t justify a parallel (if you can call the Palestinian’s feeble abilities to defend itself from Superpower Israel “parallel”) reaction, but it’s understandable by human nature.

Israel has been oppressing Palestinians for generations, giving them no hope of a resolution. Israel has an Apartheid against the Palestinians, and when the only people who will come to your aid are the traditional enemies of the west, then you’re not likely to reject it, just because Washington might not like it!

Israel and the West are directly responsible for the Palestinian people in the West Bank welcoming a group that promises them to get them at least some of their homeland back. The solution to this lies entirely in America’s hands. Stop supporting Israel with military support, and they won’t long be able to keep oppressing the Palestinians. After all, Israel’s enemies in the Middle East are all self-created. It’s their invasions, their land-grabbing, their bad treatment of Arabs that cause cries for Israel’s dissolution/destruction to begin. The fact of the matter is that without Israel there, it would be a whole lot easier for Muslim countries to solve their own internal strife. The presence of Israel is prime material for recruiting more extremists.

Oct 21, 2012 11:43pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
McBob08 wrote:
@pendingapproval: Al Jazeera is not run by any government agency, nor any corporate entity, either. It is a truly independent, neutral news source. Just because they air the comments of Islamic Extremists doesn’t mean that they are beholden or controlled by any faction, because they air comments made by Christian Extremists and Christian-oriented nations as well, giving them equal time.

They do what journalists are supposed to do — present the news; all the news, without any opinions, spin, analysis or other synonyms for bullshit. You could do well by watching more Al Jazeera.

Oct 21, 2012 11:47pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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