Israel reaches deal to resume Qatari payments to Gaza

Agreement will allow Qatar to make payments through UN to thousands of poor families in the Palestinian territory

A tanker bearing Qatari flags and carrying fuel for Gaza's sole power plant arrives at the Rafah crossing in the southern Gaza Strip on June 28. AFP
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Israel says it has reached an agreement to allow Qatar to resume the transfer of funds to the Gaza Strip, a step aimed at easing tensions with the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory in the wake of an 11-day war in May.

Qatar has sent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to Gaza in what it says are payments intended to support the poorest families.

Israel has blocked the transfers since the war in May, insisting on safeguards to ensure that none of the money reaches Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, among others.

Under the system before the war, about $30 million in cash was delivered in suitcases to Gaza each month through an Israeli-controlled crossing.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Thursday that under the new arrangement, funds would be transferred by the United Nations directly to the bank accounts of Gaza families. Israel will oversee the list of recipients, he said. The payments are expected to begin in the coming weeks.

“I have been in contact with Qatari officials to establish a mechanism that ensures the money reaches those in need, while maintaining Israel’s security needs,” Mr Gantz said. He said Israel also was in touch with Hamas's rival, the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority, to look at possible alternatives for transferring the funds under its supervision.

The arrangement was announced a day after Egypt’s intelligence chief visited Israel to try to shore up the cease-fire that ended the violence in May.

The Qatari Foreign Ministry said that 100,000 families would receive a monthly allowance of $100 from September.

More than half of Gaza’s 2 million people live under the poverty line, according to government data, and the unemployment level is about 50 per cent.

Hamas has complained about the delays in resuming the payments and threatened to resume fighting if the funds did not begin flowing again. Earlier this week, Palestinian militants fired a rocket into Israel for the first time since the war.

Israel did not respond to the rocket attack, indicating that diplomatic efforts were making progress.

The announcement came a day after Egypt’s intelligence chief, a key mediator between Israel and Hamas, made a rare visit to Israel to work on bolstering a ceasefire that ended the fighting in May.

Israel and Hamas, an Islamic militant group sworn to Israel's destruction, are bitter enemies that have fought four wars and numerous skirmishes since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian legislative elections.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade on the territory since the Hamas takeover. The blockade, which restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, has crushed the enclave's economy.

Updated: August 21, 2021, 12:26 PM