Qatar emir begins historic Gaza visit

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Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani meeting Hamas ruler Ismael Haniyeh in Rafah Crossing on Gaza-Egypt border. Photo – Al Jazeera English TV

The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani has arrived in the Gaza Strip on a historic trip which will see the inauguration of a $254-million Qatari investment project to rebuild the destructed and besieged coastal enclave.

The leader of the Gulf nation is the first Arab head of state to visit Gaza since the imposition of a widespread international boycott of the Palestinian territory.

“This visit has great political significance,” said Hamas government spokesman Taher al-Nunu.

“He is the first Arab leader to break the political siege.”

The investment project seeks to build 1,000 homes for poor families in the devastated Khan Younis area in the south of the Strip.

The 41km-long Gaza Strip, home to 1.6 million people, was heavily bombed by Israel during a 22-day-long military operation in December 2008 and January 2009.

Khan Younis has been particularly hard hit during the international blockade of Gaza, imposed since 2007, and during the half-decade before that. A 2011 EWASH report revealed that 90-95% of Gaza’s water is unsafe to drink.

In a phone conversation on the eve of the visit, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the emir’s intentions to help the people of Gaza, under an Israeli-led blockade since the Hamas takeover.

A late night statement from the office of Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi said his country welcomed the emir’s visit to Gaza, which it said were part of Egypt’s effort “to break the siege on the people” of the territory.

Qatar has played a key role in the reconciliation process. Earlier this year, the emir brought together Abbas and Hamas’ supreme leader in exile, Khaled Meshaal, to make a deal.

Under the arrangement, Abbas was to lead an interim unity government to pave the way for new elections in the Palestinian territories. The deal is yet to be implemented.

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