Egypt, Qatar Reach Breakthrough on Hamas Civil Servants Salaries

The agreement, which has received a tacit nod from Israel, defuses a potential standoff with Hamas

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Reconstruction of a Gaza neighborhood damaged in May.
Reconstruction of a Gaza neighborhood damaged in May. Credit: Mohammed Abed / AFP

Egypt and Qatar agreed Monday on a mechanism for paying salaries to Hamas civil servants in the Gaza Strip, drawing the seven-month stalemate on payments to a close.

The salaries were blocked at Israel's insistence, following its war with militant groups in Gaza in May.

In November, an agreement began taking shape under which Qatar would provide the money for these salaries by buying fuel in Egypt. The fuel would then be sent to Hamas via Egypt’s Rafah border crossing with Gaza, and Hamas would sell the fuel in Gaza and use the profits to pay its civil servants.

Officially, Israel insists that it isn’t a party to the agreement, which is between Qatar, Egypt and Hamas, and therefore refuses to comment on it.

But in reality, according to people involved in the issue, the fuel shipments – which are slated to start soon – wouldn’t be possible without Israel’s tacit consent.

In the wake of the agreement, Hamas announced on Monday that public employees will receive wage increases in the coming month. With around 50,000 civil servants, Hamas is the largest employer in the poverty-stricken enclave.

Political sources in the Gaza Strip believe that a recent agreement between Hamas, Qatar and Egypt was reached to situate the aid transfer within the wider effort to reach a long-term peace agreement between Israel and Hamas. Egypt has played a key role as a mediator to reach such a deal, under which Hamas wants Israel to free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the repatriation of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers.

Israel previously had refused to allow Qatar to pay the $10 million a month needed for these salaries directly, and therefore the parties had been trying to reach an agreement that would be acceptable to all sides. To Israel, this meant a deal that would prevent Hamas from getting its hands on the money.

The difficulty in reaching such an agreement had led to increased tension and a threat of military escalation by Hamas.

The method of transferring Qatari funds to the Gaza Strip prior to the most recent round of fighting between Israel and Hamas – which was in suitcases full of cash – "will not repeat itself," a government statement announced in September.

Qatar, Egypt and Israel had since struggled to determine a way to deliver the aid in a way agreeable to all parties.

A plan to have the Palestinian Authority transfer the money through its banks in the West Bank fell through in September, after banks expressed fear they would be exposed to lawsuits alleging support for terrorism, as Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by Israel and other Western countries.

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