Qatar to send money for West Bank, Gaza after Israel truce

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Qatar on Tuesday said it is sending $480 million to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after a cease-fire deal ended the deadliest fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants since a 2014 war.

Qatar's Foreign Ministry said $300 million would support health and education programs of the Palestinian Authority, while $180 million would go toward "urgent humanitarian relief" in U.N. programs and toward electricity. The Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip suffers from chronic electricity shortages.

The recent two-day outbreak of violence killed 25 people in Gaza, both militants and civilians, and four civilians in Israel.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said Egyptian mediators, along with officials from Qatar and the U.N., helped broker the cease-fire deal. The deal is believed to include a number of economic aid and development programs in Gaza, including providing additional electricity and creating temporary jobs in a territory where unemployment has skyrocketed to over 50%.

Israel approved the resumption of fuel shipments into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday after cutting off the supply during Sunday's surge of violence, according to COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs. It confirmed Israel would indefinitely ease restrictions on the movement of people and goods through its two main crossings with the territory next week, following the country's observation of Memorial Day and Independence Day.

The energy-rich, small nation of Qatar has become a major donor to the Palestinians.

The Palestinians have been divided between two rival governments since 2007, when Hamas drove forces from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority out of Gaza. Hamas has ruled Gaza since then, with the Palestinian Authority administering autonomous zones in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

This marks the first time in recent years that Qatar has funded the Palestinian Authority directly. In recent years, its money has only gone to Gaza, where it opened a hospital just last month.

The United States and the European Union classify Hamas as a terrorist group. Although Qatar doesn't pay directly to Hamas, its support since 2012, totaling $755 million, has been a vital lifeline for the cash-strapped group, relieving it from having to fund civilian and infrastructure projects.

Omar Shaban, a Gaza economist, said the latest funding was extraordinary.

"This decision boosts Qatar's role in the coming phase and makes it as acceptable in Ramallah as it is in Gaza," he wrote on Facebook.

Both Palestinian governments are in deep financial distress. The Palestinian Authority has been hit hard by cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid, as well as a dispute with Israel over tax transfers.

Israel has begun to withhold money from these transfers that it says the Palestinians give to families of Palestinian attackers who have been jailed or killed in fighting with Israel.

Israel says the money rewards violence. The Palestinians say the payments are social welfare to families affected by conflict, and they have refused to accept the tax transfers unless the funding is fully restored.

The aid cuts and refusal to accept partial tax transfers have plunged the Palestinian Authority into a deep crisis in which it is only able to pay its workers half of their salaries.

In the West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas thanked the Qataris and said the aid would "help the Palestinian people overcome some of their hardships, face the challenges and strengthen their steadfastness on their land."

In Gaza, meanwhile, the economy has been ravaged by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, years of fighting with Israel and Hamas' isolation and mismanagement. Cuts in aid from Abbas' government, as well as U.S. cuts in funding for U.N. programs, have also hurt the coastal strip's population.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh welcomed the Qatari aid and thanked the Gulf state's leader.

"This honorable decision is a continuation of the unwavering Qatari stances that support the Palestinian people politically and financially, in addition to defending the Palestinian rights at international platforms," he said.


Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, contributed to this report.