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Middle east

Hamas hails Qatari emir’s landmark visit to Gaza

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-10-23

The emir of Qatar made a landmark visit to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, making him the only head of state to meet with Hamas since the militant Islamist group took control of the territory in 2007.

Thousands of Qatari and Palestinian flags lined the streets of the Palestinian territory of Gaza on Tuesday to welcome Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. The visit by the ruler of Qatar to the isolated enclave was the first of any head of state since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power five years ago.

The emir entered Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and was accompanied by his wife, Sheikha Moza, and Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani.

'PERHAPS THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF HAMAS's ISOLATION'

Other high-level diplomats visiting Gaza in recent years have carefully avoided face-to-face meetings with Hamas leaders, but the emir was being greeted by Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and several cabinet ministers on arrival.

"This visit has great political significance," said Hamas government spokesman Taher al-Nun before the emir’s arrival. "He is the first Arab leader to break the political siege," Nunu said, referring to a widespread international boycott of Hamas.

During his brief visit, the emir will inaugurate a $254-million Qatari reconstruction project in the Gaza Strip, which sustained major damage during a massive 22-day Israeli military operation in December 2008 and January 2009.

Frustration for Abbas

The ruler of the Gulf emirate was not scheduled to make a stop in the West Bank territory that is controlled by the Palestinian Authority - whom Hamas fought and ousted from Gaza in 2007.

"The emir has chosen his camp and it is not good," Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP on Monday.

According to FRANCE 24’s correspondent Gallagher Fenwick, the emir’s visit was a source of frustration for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“Abbas wants to be the sole representative of the Palestinian people on the international stage,” Fenwick said, adding that the emir had not coordinated his visit with Abbas nor invited the leader to join him in Gaza.

Mounting tensions

The emir’s visit came at a time of mounting tensions with Israel, which has targeted militants with military strikes in recent days.

Israel launched two air strikes on Monday around the northern town of Beit Hanun, where militants were firing mortar rounds at an Israeli tank and military vehicles that had crossed into Gaza territory, witnesses and security sources said. The strikes killed at least two Palestinian militants.

Late on Monday, Palestinian medical services and witnesses said a third air strike at Beit Hanun critically wounded a man, Khalil al-Kafarna, 21, who later died of his injuries. It was not immediately known if he was a militant.

A few hours before the Qatari emir’s visit, the Israeli military said an explosion along the Gaza security fence had wounded an Israeli soldier. The military said the soldier was moderately hurt, but had no further details about the blast.

Date created : 2012-10-23

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