Emir of Qatar arrives in Gaza Strip 24Oct12 October 24, 2012

Ma’an News Agency   -   23 October 2012

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — The emir of Qatar entered the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in an historic visit to the besieged coastal enclave.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani crossed into Gaza from Egypt at the head of a large delegation on what is billed as a humanitarian visit to inaugurate $250 million worth of reconstruction projects.

It was the first trip by a head of state to Gaza since 1999 and the emir was given a red-carpet welcome by Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who declared it a historic day for the enclave.

Hamas says Sheikh al-Thani’s trip marks the beginning of the end of Israel’s blockade policy.

The emir and his large delegation were greeted by a Hamas honor guard and Palestinian and Qatari flags decorated the route on the main road north to the city of Gaza, a key highway that Qatar will rebuild.

Sheikh al-Thani was due to make a public appearance in one of Gaza’s largest soccer stadiums, and security arrangements have been in place for days ahead of the visit, seen by Hamas as a victory after five years of isolation.

He is also expected to lay a corner stone for the reconstruction of Salah ad-Din street and attend the opening of a specialist hospital for prosthetics in northern Gaza.

Qatar’s emir has met Israeli leaders in the past and is working hard to boost the diplomatic clout of his small country. He has also previously sought to mediate between Hamas and Fatah to end the divisions that have weakened the Palestinian cause.

PLO official Nabil Amro said the visit will not affect the PLO’s relationship with Qatar, stressing that the group is the sole representative of the Palestinian people.

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said it was “astounding” that Qatar was taking sides, noting that the emir “has never dignified the PA with a visit”.

On Monday, Fatah called on Palestinians to boycott the Qatari visit, saying it would entrench the division between the West Bank, governed by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

“Looking for a political power in the region at the expense of the Palestinian people and their rights and unity is unacceptable,” Fatah said in a statement.

Earlier, Fatah leader Yahya Rabah told Ma’an that Fatah had not been invited to meet Sheikh al-Thani by Qatar or Hamas.

Spokesman of the Hamas-led government Taher al-Nunu insisted that Fatah had declined an invitation to attend the welcoming celebration for the emir.

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