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Qatar's Emir to visit Gaza, first by an Arab leader since 2007

Monday October 22, 2012 11:14:54 PM, IANS

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Gaza: Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and his wife Princess Moza are scheduled to arrive in the Gaza Strip Tuesday, the first official visit of an Arab leader to the coastal enclave since Hamas seized control of it in 2007, reported Xinhua.

Hamas officials said they had finalized all preparations for the historic visit, and its security forces have been deployed in various areas, mainly in the sites where the Emir is scheduled to visit.

Gaza city was decked out with Qatari flags and banners to welcome the Emir and thank Qatar for its political and financial support to the impoverished Strip.

The Qatari-financed construction projects in the Gaza Strip are the first-ever Arab effort to reconstruct the enclave since the end of the Israeli operation Cast Lead in early 2009, which largely destroyed its infrastructure and more than 50,000 housing units.

Hamas Deputy Prime Minister Zeyad Zaza told Xinhua that the Qatari Emir and his wife will be officially received by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh at Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

"The visit of Sheikh Hamad, his wife and the official delegation he is heading, to the Gaza Strip will last for several hours," said Zaza.

The Qatari grant for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip is $254 million, devoted to building up a housing project in the southern town of Khan Younis, to pave the major Salah Al Din road, and to set up a hospital for treating handicapped people.

The Emir and his wife will be present at the inaugural ceremonies of the three projects, Zaza said, adding the Emir will also visit Hamas government's headquarters to hold talks with Haniyeh and other ministers. In the afternoon he will go to Palestine Football Stadium for a welcome ceremony by the people.

In a press statement emailed to Xinhua, Haniyeh said that his government "is welcoming the visit of Sheikh Hamad to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday," adding that "this visit has many important implications and expresses the great Qatari support to the Palestinian people."

Meanwhile, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Xinhua that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) had been informed 10 days ago about the visit of the Emir to the Gaza Strip, adding that the PNA had welcomed the visit that would contribute to reconstructing the Gaza Strip.

"We hope that the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad will exert more efforts to convince Hamas movement to implement the reconciliation agreement signed in Doha between President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal on forming a unity government and hold the elections," said Erekat.

Despite signing the agreement, disputes between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party on implementing the agreement dragged on.

Among the people in the coastal enclave, some support the visit of the Qatari Emir and hope it will contribute to ending the ongoing Israeli blockade, which had been imposed on the territory since 2007.

Others say that the visit is a first official Arab recognition of Hamas as a rule that controls the enclave. They expressed concerns that the visit may encourage Hamas to declare the Gaza Strip an independent territory isolated from the West Bank.






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