The next payment of Qatari money to Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip will be transferred under the guise of payment for "authorized projects," in order to minimize embarrassment faced by the Israeli government over previous cash payments in suitcases, according to defense sources.
The decision was made following an agreement between the UN and Qatar. Fears are meanwhile rising in Israel that the Palestinian Authority's weakness paired with the crisis at the Temple Mount will lead to a violent escalation in Gaza and the West Bank at the end of the month, around the anniversary of the weekly Hamas-sponsored border protests.
Photographs depicting Qatari cash circulating in the streets of Gaza hurt the image of the Israeli government, which was accused of capitulating to terror, while Islamic Jihad accused Hamas of abandoning the fight against Israel for Qatari cash.
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According to a source within the security establishment, the funds have already been transferred to the UN, which received a list of eligible aid recipients approved by Israel. Therefore, Hamas officials and the needy will need to work several hours, or even less, in order to receive the money – $100 – as payment, and not in cash.
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Meanwhile, defense officials are preparing for March 30, the anniversary of the beginning of weekly border protests at the Israel-Gaza fence, coinciding with Land Day, which commemorates a 1976 incident in which Israeli security forces shot dead six Israeli Arabs protesting land confiscations.
According to intelligence assessments, Hamas is already prepared for wide-scale operations at the border beginning on March 29, a Friday, and peaking the next day. According to the source, a high level of violence on the 29th could lead to an escalation the following day. The Shin Bet security service and military are worried that Hamas's actions could incite protests in the West Bank, after failing to do so last year.
Last week, representatives from all branches of the security establishment discussed the recent developments in the West Bank and Gaza. Several participants warned of the dangers of a financial crisis in the Palestinian Authority that could shake the foundations of Mahmoud Abbas's power.
The same sources noted that the PA is struggling to pay its employees' salaries, and has yet to transfer February's paychecks. According to their assessment, the PA could cease to function in two months.
This prospect has intensified Shin Bet and army criticism of a law that deducts money paid to the families of terrorists from Israel's tax refund to the PA. Top officials in both organizations have argued in closed discussions that the law lacks a loophole that would allow the money to be transferred if required for security reasons.
The officials cautioned that if transferring the money could prevent a violent escalation, the law will make it difficult to take that step.
One participant in last week's discussion said that the law forced the PA to choose transferring money to the families of prisoners over paying members of its security forces.
"It's an off-limits topic for [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas]," said a source involved in the most recent discussions. "It's clear to everyone that he won't touch that money, because it's a sensitive topic that could cost him power and send people into the streets."
Even the head of the Shin Bet, Nadav Argaman, warned in closed discussions that the PA faces a financial crisis in the face of Israel's decision to deduct money that Palestinians transfer to the families of people killed, injured or imprisoned for attacks on Israel from their monthly tax revenue.
Meanwhile, tensions continue on the Gaza border, and this weekend saw the first instance of a rocket's warhead being attached to a balloon launched over the border from Gaza.
An explosion from a warhead like this could cause much more serious damage than the explosive devices that have been attached to balloons so far.
Friday and Saturday also saw projectiles launched from Gaza at Israel, though no one was hurt and no property was damaged, as well as the entry of two Palestinians armed with a knife and a hand grenade into Israel. In response, the Israeli army attacked Hamas positions in the Strip.