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Qatar delivers $15 million to Gaza to help pay civil servants and cool unrest

Qatar delivers $15 million to Gaza to help pay civil servants and cool unrest
Palestinians line up Friday to receive their salaries in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. (Said Khatib / AFP/Getty Images)

The bundles of greenbacks arrived in three bulging suitcases that crossed the border from Israel in an armored car: an estimated $15 million in U.S. currency.

The Thursday delivery was a gift from Qatar to the civil servants in the Gaza Strip.

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Post offices were kept open Friday, a day they are normally closed, as thousands of public servants lined up hoping to receive the remainder of their summer salaries. They had been unpaid or underpaid for months.

Egypt brokered the deal in attempt to quell deepening unrest in Gaza, where for seven months residents have been protesting Israel and its continuing blockade of the Palestinian enclave, which is ruled by the Islamist group Hamas.

Nearly 170 people have been killed in clashes with the Israeli army since March and thousands more have been wounded.

But the problems in Gaza also stem from deteriorating relations between Hamas, which the U.S. and its allies classify as a terrorist group, and the Palestinian Authority, the internationally recognized Palestinian government that is based in the occupied West Bank and responsible for paying the salaries of civil servants.

The two sides have been at odds since Hamas drove the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza in a violent takeover more than 11 years ago.

Over the last year, amid a failed effort to form a unity government, the Palestinian Authority has enacted harsh punitive measures against Hamas. Water purification systems and other infrastructure have gone without maintenance. Many families have had electricity no more than 4 hours a day.

And more than 40,000 civil servants have not received a full salary in months, with some not having been fully paid since 2013.

Standing in line Friday, Jamila Abed Tolba, a 52-year-old nurse employed at Gaza’s Shifa hospital, said she was last paid in July — and $300 less than she was owed.

She got that $300 Friday, but remained worried about her next paycheck.

“We don’t really know how the Qatari money will be distributed,” she said.

“I have a big family to look after,” she said. “My husband died five years ago, and I pay $200 to rent my house and support two sons at the university.”

Also in line, Alaa Saleh, 35, a teacher and the father of three girls, said he was unhappy because after promising that salaries would be paid in full, the Finance Ministry had announced that only 60% would be handed over Friday.

The payment by Qatar was widely seen as a move to demonstrate good faith to the United States. The two nations’ relationship has suffered over the last year as Qatar and its rival Saudi Arabia, another important U.S. ally, have been at odds.

But some Palestinians see the move as a capitulation to Israel, which wants to foster stability in Gaza and cool unrest without bolstering Hamas.

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Friday afternoon, about 20 young men protested against Qatar, chanting that Mohammed Al Emadi, the country’s regional envoy who made the cash delivery, was a collaborator with Israel. Some saw the payment as an attempt to buy off the protesters who have been amassing on Gaza’s border with Israel nearly every Friday.

One social media post showed an old man whose mouth was taped shut with a dollar bill over it.

As Al Emadi traveled to the border Friday to observe this week’s demonstration, his car was pelted with rocks. The protests were smaller than usual, but a 28-year-old man was killed.

Palestinian sources told Reuters the Qatari payout was the first phase of a projected $90-million grant that would flow into Gaza over the next six months with Israeli approval.

But Yahya Sinwar, one of Hamas’ leaders in Gaza, said no deal had been struck with Israel.

Anyone claiming that “there is a deal or understandings with the occupation does not tell the truth,” he said at a border rally east of Gaza City.

Instead, he said, Hamas was working toward “understandings” with Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations “to lift the blockade.”

The government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who views Hamas as an implacable enemy of his legitimate rule, condemned the payment.

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA published a statement accusing Hamas of “selling Palestinian blood for $15 million.”

“Hamas leaders are prepared to align themselves with the devil in order to remain in power and undermine the Palestinian national project,” the statement said, lashing out at Hamas for “pursuing conspiracies, in accord with the Zionist-American conspiracy aimed at separating the West Bank from the Gaza Strip.”

Ahmad Majdalani, a senior member of Abbas’ party, released a statement “strongly rejecting the introduction of Qatari funds into Gaza without the approval of President Mahmoud Abbas.”

“If the Authority had agreed to bring in the money, the Authority would transfer it via banks, not in travel bags,” he said.

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