The Emir of Qatar entered the Gaza Strip on Tuesday at the head of a large delegation on what is billed as a humanitarian visit to inaugurate funds for reconstruction projects.

Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani was given a red-carpet welcome by Hamas officials. He is the first head of state to visit Gaza since Egypt and Israel launched a blockade of the Palestinian enclave in 2007, breaking the isolation of its rulers Hamas.



After his arrival, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh announced that al-Thani raised his pledge to Gaza from $254 million to $400 million.

PA officials expressed fear that the visit of the emir would bolster Hamas’s standing not only among Palestinians, but also in the Arab, Islamic and international arenas.

Although Abbas publicly welcomed the emir’s visit, his aides said that he was “very disappointed.” Abbas’s absence in receiving the emir is seen as a severe blow to his claim that he is the legitimate and elected leader of the Palestinians.

Israel is also unhappy with the visit, which sends a message to the rest of the world that the Hamas regime is a legitimate government and that the Gaza Strip is an independent political and geographic entity.

“It is quite strange that the emir of Qatar should choose sides within the Palestinian camp, and choose the wrong side while he is at it,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

“What this visit means is that he sides with Hamas, and not with the PA, which he never visited,” Palmor added.

Another government official noted that with a few notable exceptions – such as Russia and Turkey – the international community has accepted the three conditions articulated by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan for engagement with Hamas: that the organization forswears terrorism, recognizes Israel and accepts previous Palestinian agreements with Israel.

“We urge the international community to abide by those benchmarks,” the official said.

Noting that missiles and rockets from Gaza continue to fall on Israel, he added that the idea that Hamas was playing a more positive role “is baloney.”

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