Israeli Defense Officials Object to Calls to Halt Flow of Qatari Funds Into Gaza

Politicians' move to suspend transfer of monthly payment will primarily hurt residents of the Strip, security sources say; meanwhile, tensions along Gaza's borders are rising

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A Hamas clerk in the Gaza Strip holding her salary, paid for by the country of Qatar, as per an agreement with Israel, December 2018.
A Hamas clerk in the Gaza Strip, holding up her salary, paid for by Qatar, in December 2018.Credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Israeli defense officials are criticizing politicians, including former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who called this week for a halt in the funding from the Persian Gulf state of Qatar to the Gaza Strip via Israel. Although there has been no confirmation that the decision has been implemented, Palestinian sources report that Israel has withheld the financial aid from Qatar, prompting condemnation from Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Strip.

Noting a possible connection between the decision to stop the monthly funds – slated to be transferred by Qatar this week – and the upcoming Knesset election, Lieberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party who resigned as defense minister in November, tweeted on Sunday: “It’s a pity that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has only now come to the conclusion that Israel cannot finance terror that is directed at itself. I hope this decision is not related to the election and that we don’t see Netanyahu renew the transfer of funds to Hamas after April 9.”

>> Hamas-Abbas tension escalates situation on Gaza front. For Netanyahu, it's bad timing | Analysis ■ Israel is relatively optimistic about Gaza. But in the long term, it's cosmically pessimistic | Analysis In a reference to the head of Hamas in Gaza and to Israelis living near the border of the Strip, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid tweeted about 10 days ago: “The money is flowing to Gaza, Yahya Sinwar is going around like a hero and the residents of the south have been abandoned.”

Beginning last March, Gazans launched mass weekly demonstrations along Israel's southern border, which led to clashes with security forces and numerous casualties on the Palestinian side. The situation escalated in the course of the year to include the launching of incendiary devices from Gaza that floated over the border by means of kites and balloons, along with incidents of rocket fire aimed at neighboring Israeli communities, before calm was generally restored.

However, on Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces announced that its Iron Dome anti-missile system had incepted yet another rocket fired from the Strip the night before, in response to which the air force had attacked Hamas targets in northern Gaza.

Defense officials say that suspending the transfer of Qatari funds to Gaza will mostly hurt its civilian population, which needs the money to cover its most basic needs, and that such a move will not make Hamas more conciliatory in its policies. “Qatar is not paying money to the wounded, to the families of those killed or to terrorists,” one official said.

Through intermediaries, Israel and Hamas agreed that Qatar would transfer $15 million to the Strip on a monthly basis, $5 million of which would be distributed to 50,000 needy families, at $100 per family. The remaining $10 million would be paid to some 27,000 Hamas civil servants who are not part of the organization's military wing or security forces in the Strip.

Hamas conquered the coastal enclave of Gaza in a brief battle in 2007 and ousted the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, based in Ramallah in the West Bank, after the Islamist group won the Palestinian elections.

On Sunday, PA officials at the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt failed to report to work, reportedly in response to Hamas' harassment of PA and Fatah representatives. Hamas officials replaced the latter at the terminal there, forcing officials in Cairo to decide whether Egypt will accept the new reality on the ground.

The situation along Gaza's borders is an indication of a further deterioration in relations between Hamas and the PA following failed efforts to reconcile the two sides. On Sunday, Hamas accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his government of inflicting harm on Gazans. For their part, PA sources have accused Hamas of attempting to carry out terrorist attacks in the West Bank against Israelis in an effort to escalate tensions there.

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