Doha: The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani
has arrived in the Gaza Strip today afternoon to inaugurate a
$254-million Qatari investment project to rebuild the impoverished
and overcrowded coastal enclave.
Sheikh Hamad bin crossed into
Gaza by car from Egypt amid tight security, and was greeted by
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya.
The leader of the Gulf nation is the first head of state to visit
Gaza since the imposition of a widespread international boycott of
the Palestinian territory.
"This visit has great political
significance," said Hamas government spokesman Taher al-Nunu. "He
is the first Arab leader to break the political siege."
investment project seeks to build 1,000 homes for poor families in
the devastated Khan Younis area in the south of the Strip. The
41km-long Gaza Strip, home to 1.6 million people, sustained major
damage during a huge 22-day Israeli military operation in December
2008 and January 2009.
Khan Younis has been particularly hard hit during the
international blockade of Gaza, imposed since 2007, and during the
half-decade before that.
In a phone conversation
on the eve of the visit, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
welcomed the emir's intentions to help the people of Gaza, under
an Israeli-led blockade since the Hamas takeover.
A late night
statement from the office of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi said
his country welcomed the emir's visit to Gaza, which it said were
part of Egypt's effort "to break the siege on the people" of the
Qatar has played a key role in the reconciliation
process. Earlier this year, the emir brought together Abbas and
Hamas' supreme leader in exile, Khaled Meshaal, to make a deal.
Under the arrangement, Abbas was to lead an interim unity
government to pave the way for new elections in the Palestinian
territories. That deal is yet to be implemented
Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes killed two Gaza fighters yesterday
as they clashed with troops who crossed the border on the eve of a
landmark visit by the Qatari emir, medical sources said.
The flareup provoked threats of revenge from the Ezzedine Al-Qassam
Brigades, the armed wing of the ruling Hamas movement, and a
pledge from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that there
would be no immunity for those firing on the Jewish state.
Two airstrikes took place around the northern town of Beit Hanun where
fighters were firing mortar shells at an Israeli tank and several
military vehicles that had crossed the border into Gaza territory,
witnesses and security sources said.
The first strike hit north of Beit Hanun, critically wounding four
Qassam Brigades militants, one of whom later died of his injuries,
medics and the militant group said.
As the clashes continued,
Israel launched a second air strike east of Beit Hanun, killing a
militant from the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) and
critically wounding another man, the same sources said.
Brigades confirmed that the first strike had killed one of its
militants and critically wounded another three, naming the dead
man as Abderahman Abu Jalaleh, 25, and describing him as a local
commander. The second strike killed a PRC militant whom the group
named as Yasser Al-Tarabin. The identity of the injured man was
not immediately clear.
Hamas fighters usually observe a de facto truce regarding Israeli
targets, but the rare show of force against the military force
appeared to be a direct response to the incursion.
enemy continues its crimes and arrogance against our land and
people... because of its desire to blow up the situation,” the Qassam Brigades said. “The enemy will not be able to tie our hands
and his crime will not go unanswered.”
Netanyahu also issued a
warning of his own. “The real thing we have is rockets. We’ve got Hamas, supported by Iran, firing rockets at us.. We’re not going
to let anyone arm themselves and fire rockets on us and think that
they can do this with impunity. They’re not going to get away with
it,” he said on meeting the Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair.