Qatar's emir to head to Hamas-ruled Gaza

By Ibrahim Barzak

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Oct. 21 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Despite the plans for a high-profile visit, Qatar has tried to temper its growing role in Gaza. Last week, Qatar's ambassador to Gaza, Mohammed al-Emadi, emphasized that the massive investments "are for the people of Gaza, not Hamas." He said Qatar would be involved in the projects until completion and only then hand them to the Gaza government.

Still, the projects could produce another potential benefit by helping Hamas establish a trade route with Egypt.

After the Hamas takeover, Israel and Egypt's former ruler, Hosni Mubarak, enforced a border blockade of Gaza. Israel has since eased some restrictions, but still bars virtually all exports and restricts the imports of key raw materials.

Mubarak's successor, Mohammed Morsi — who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood — has been reluctant to open the Gaza-Egypt border to trade, in part because this could inadvertently foster the separation between the West Bank and Gaza, which lie on opposite sides of Israel. Such a move could also further weaken Abbas politically.

Qatari diplomats have asked Egypt to allow raw materials for Qatar's Gaza projects to be sent through the Rafah crossing, Gaza officials said. Haniyeh's office said the Egyptian president approved the arrangement, which could set a precedent for future trade.

Egyptian officials were not immediately available for comment Sunday. However, Morsi has tried to avoid alienating Abbas, who would presumably oppose the idea of a Gaza-Egypt trade without oversight by his Palestinian Authority.

An Abbas aide, Nimr Hamad, appeared to criticize the emir's Gaza plans. During a trip to Egypt, Hamad said he hoped Arab nations would refrain from visits "that give Gaza a semi-independent status," adding that "this is very dangerous for the Palestinian issue."

Another West Bank official, former planning minister Samir Abdullah, said Qatar should use its leverage over Hamas to pressure it to agree to reconciliation.

"Changing the miserable situation in Gaza is something good," Abdullah said. "Nobody would look at it otherwise. But it shouldn't be used to encourage the separation between the West Bank and Gaza, or make reconciliation more difficult."

Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb in Cairo contributed reporting.

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