Palestinian civil servants formed long queues in Gaza on Friday to receive Qatari-funded salaries, as part of efforts to ease tensions in and around the impoverished territory.
A total of $90 million is to be distributed in six monthly instalments of $15 million, according to authorities, primarily to cover salaries of officials working for Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the Palestinian enclave.
Some exited post offices, where the first instalment was being distributed, to show off hundred-dollar bills before the cameras, after several months of sporadic salary payments in cash-strapped Gaza.
The cash was driven into the Palestinian enclave through Israel late on Thursday by Qatar’s envoy to Gaza, Mohammad al-Emadi, according to a government source in Gaza. Qatar has also said it would hand out $100 to each of 50,000 poor families, as well as larger sums to Palestinians wounded in clashes along Gaza’s border with Israel. The Israeli-authorised money transfer appeared to be part of a deal that would see cash-strapped Hamas end months of often violent protests along the border in exchange for Israel easing its blockade of Gaza.
Senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official Ahmed Majdalani expressed the discontent of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority over the deal. Emadi had "smuggled the money" into Gaza in suitcases like a "gangster", the official said.
"The PLO did not agree to the deal facilitating the money to Hamas that way," Majdalani, who is close to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, told AFP. Such a deal harmed Egyptian efforts to reconcile Hamas and the PA and would allow the Islamist movement to consolidate its control over Gaza, Majdalani said.
Hamas has controlled Gaza since ousting forces loyal to the internationally recognised PA in a near civil war in 2007. Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman criticised the Qatari money transfer to Gaza.
"This is capitulation to terrorism, and in effect Israel is buying short-term calm with money, while severely undermining long-term security," he said, quoted in Yediot Aharonot newspaper on Friday.
In another Israeli-approved deal, Qatar has started buying additional fuel for Gaza’s sole power station, allowing planned outages to be reduced to their lowest level in recent years. Egypt and the UN have been brokering indirect negotiations for a long-term truce with Israel, with which Hamas has fought three wars since 2008.
Deadly clashes have accompanied the major protests along the Gaza border with Israel that began on March 30, generating at times fears of a new war between the Jewish state and the strip’s militant rulers.