February 22, 2018 / 6:32 PM / 2 years ago

Qatar says Gaza aid spares Israel war, shows Doha does not back Hamas

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Qatar is helping Israel avoid another Gaza war by funneling relief money to impoverished Palestinians with Washington’s blessing, a Qatari diplomat said on Thursday, describing the cooperation as evidence of Doha’s distance from Islamist Hamas.

Qatari envoy Mohammed Al-Emadi speaks during an interview with Reuters in Jerusalem, February 22, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Since coming under an embargo last year by its U.S.-allied Gulf Arab neighbors, Qatar has made its aid to the Gaza Strip - and the coordination with Israel needed for disbursement - a focus of its diplomatic contacts with the Trump administration.

“Gaza is on the verge of collapsing,” Ambassador Mohammed Al-Emadi told Reuters in an interview in Jerusalem, after he met Israel’s regional cooperation minister and security officials.

“This is what we are preventing: a war, the next war. We don’t want the next war,” he said of some $800 million in Qatari assistance to Gaza since the last Hamas-Israel conflict in 2014.

“The work that we are doing is keeping peace for both nations,” said the Qatari relief director for the Gaza Strip.

Israel has voiced alarm at the deepening poverty in Gaza, which it and neighboring Egypt keep under embargo in what they say is a precaution against Hamas arms-smuggling.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar in June for allegedly supporting militant groups such as Hamas, meddling in their internal affairs and backing regional foe Iran’s agenda.

Qatar denies all the accusations, and pushed back with outreach to the United States - including several leaders of its pro-Israel Jewish community.

“If we are helping Hamas, do you think the Israelis (would) allow us to go inside and come out?” Al-Emadi asked. “It’s impossible. They know we are not helping Hamas.”

Responding to Israeli and U.S. requests, Qatar ceased hosting Saleh al-Arouri, the Hamas deputy leader, Al-Emadi said. He added that “every single penny” of Qatari money given to Gaza was monitored to ensure it is spent on humanitarian needs.

“We feed Washington the correct information about what we are doing, and these people ... right away, they are with us,” Al-Emadi said. Qatar’s image, he added, “is improved, because ... when we tell them what is there on the ground, what we are doing there (Gaza), it is good work”.

Al-Emadi said he has visited Israel 20 times since 2014. The trips were previously kept under wraps, but the envoy has been increasingly visible in recent months.

By contrast, Israeli officials declined to comment on Al-Emadi’s visits, a reticence that one diplomatic source attributed to their reluctance to upset other Arab powers.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alison Williams

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