Qatari Emir’s Visit to Gaza Draws Mixed Reactions
The arrival of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani was welcomed by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh who thanked the Emir for his visit saying, “Today you have officially broken the unjust siege imposed on the Gaza Strip by the forces of repression and darkness.” Al-Thani pledged to increase Qatar’s investment in Gaza from $250 million to $400 million to allow for the expansion of various infrastructure projects. Additionally, he called on Hamas and Fatah to end their division and implement the Qatari-brokered reconciliation accord, which was signed in February. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority leaders said Emir al-Thani’s visit would embolden Hamas and further tighten its grip on the Gaza Strip. Yasser Abed Rabbo, Secretary-General of the PLO, said creating a separate Palestinian entity in the Gaza Strip would only serve Israel’s interests. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland addressed the Emir’s visit saying, “We share Qatar’s deep concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people, including those residing in Gaza. We of course remain concerned about Hamas’s destabilizing role in Gaza and the region, and we urge all parties in the region to play a constructive role in bringing the Palestinians and the Israelis back to the negotiating table.”
Shortly after al-Thani’s departure from the Gaza Strip, Hamas militants fired rockets into Israel, an action that was met by swift retaliation from the Israeli Air Force. Four Palestinians in Gaza were killed and two guest workers in Israel were critically wounded during the fighting. Israeli defense official Amos Gilad confirmed Egypt had stepped in to mediate between the two sides. ”The Egyptians have a very impressive ability to articulate to [Hamas] that its primary interest is not to attack… Israel or other targets. [However], the only thing that has been set and said is that there will be calm. We are not interested in an escalation,” he said. The attacks came as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton visited Israel to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials to discuss the prospects for peace negotiations.