Qatar announced on Wednesday it will spend $254m on rebuilding the besieged Palestinian enclave after seeking cooperation from Israel and Egypt. It will be the biggest reconstruction drive for the Palestinian enclave since it was bombed by the Israeli military in early 2009.
The Qatari ambassador Mohammed al-Amadi Israel and Egypt will allow the transportation of building materials and heavy machinery to Gaza, and assured that work would begin within three months. The first project will be construction of a highway that will run the length of the Mediterranean coastal strip.
Gaza is under a crippling siege imposed by Israel which is hurting the lives of its 1.6 million people, two-thirds of whom are unemployed.
Economists said thousands of jobs would be created by local contractors who have won tenders to do the work and smaller businesses that will supply and service them.
Hamas welcomed the announcement as proof that Gaza had emerged from isolation. An aide to Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh called it “the first drop of rain”.
Qatar’s envoy denied politics played any role in the emirate’s aid decision. The Qatari ambassador insisted that the people of Gaza, along with the government, would ultimately benefit from the reconstruction drive.
“The policy of the state of Qatar is that we make the projects, we design them, we finance them, and once they are finished we hand them over to the relevant ministry,” he said. This is the policy of Qatar everywhere we act and Gaza is no exception.”
Maher al-Tabba, a Gaza-based economist welcomed the move and said that injecting such an amount of money in development and infrastructure projects would certainly get the economic wheels moving and bring down unemployment.
Parts of Gaza were left in ruins in January 2009 after Israel’s three-week military offensive to destroy Hamas and other Palestinian resistance groups infrastructure in the besieged strip.
More than 1,300 Palestinians, including 700 children, were killed during the Israeli onslaught. Roads, homes, offices and factories were destroyed and subsequent reconstruction was choked by tight Israeli controls on any material that might have a military use.
Gazans started rebuilding from the rubble itself and smuggling cement from Egypt via tunnels until Israel partially eased restrictions in mid-2010, allowing Gaza’s economy to revive from rock bottom.
The Qatar project will renew three main roads, establish a new town, build a hospital and residential buildings and overhaul the infrastructure.
“Because of the political situation it wasn’t possible until now,” Amadi said.
Asked if Qatar was confident that what it helps to build over the next three years would not be smashed in a future war, the ambassador answered that “human life is more precious than bricks and steel”.
“I don’t think these are targets Israel would hit in the future. This is what we are hoping.”