Israeli minister wants voucher system for foreign aid to Gaza

Israel seeks to prevent aid and donations from being diverted to Hamas

An excavator digs through the remains of a Gaza City building levelled by an Israeli air strike during the May 2021 conflict between Israel and Hamas, on July 13. AFP
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Israel wants foreign aid to Gaza paid through a voucher system, as protection against donations being diverted to the Palestinian enclave's militant Hamas rulers, a government minister said on Tuesday.

Humanitarian agencies estimated the latest reconstruction costs for the impoverished Gaza Strip at $500 million after 11 days of cross-border fighting in May.

Qatar paid for more than $1 billion worth of construction and other projects in Gaza, some of it in cash, after a war in 2014.

The payments were monitored and approved by Israel, and Doha pledged another $500m in late May.

But new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wants a shift in policy, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said.

"The Qatari money for Gaza will not go in as suitcases full of dollars that end up with Hamas, where Hamas in essence takes for itself and its officials a significant part of it," Mr Barlev told Israel's Army Radio.

He said Mr Bennett wanted a system "where what will go in, in essence, would be food vouchers or vouchers for humanitarian aid, and not cash that can be taken and used for developing weaponry to be wielded against the State of Israel".

Hamas, which has previously denied using Gaza aid for its military, did not immediately comment. Mohammed Al Emadi, the Qatari aid envoy to Gaza, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mr Barlev said the proposed aid system should run mainly through the UN. He did not rule out continued donations from Qatar, and raised a possibility of EU assistance.

"Should the mechanism be like this, I have no doubt that Israel would help in the improvement of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip," he said.

The EU, US and some other countries have designated Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Updated: July 14, 2021, 4:32 AM