The emir of Qatar
received a hero's welcome in Gaza
on Tuesday, becoming the first head of state to visit the Palestinian territory since Hamas seized control of the coastal strip five years ago.
Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani's visit gave Gaza's Hamas
rulers an important diplomatic victory.
The emir crossed into Gaza from Egypt, and was greeted and embraced by Hamas' Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
The Qatari and Palestinian national anthems were played before an honor guard ceremony.
On Monday, a Hamas-affiliated media outlet reported that Hamas politburo member Saleh Arouri arrived in Gaza to welcome the Qatari ruler. According to the report, he entered the Strip via Rafah.
White and maroon Qatari flags flapped in the streets and a song called "Thank you, Qatar" was playing on the radio and on TV ahead of the visit. In the border area, Hamas set up a large, carpeted greeting tent, reminiscent of a luxurious desert camp. Qatari and Palestinian flags and pictures of the emir and Haniyeh were hung inside the tent.
The emir's aid of $250 million to the territory will bolster Hamas and help ease its economic woes.
During his four-hour visit, the emir will open a housing project and a hospital and will address a packed crowd at Gaza City's main soccer stadium.
At the stadium, Gaza women piled into the back stands reserved for them hours ahead of the speech. They sat under the watchful eye of Hamas policewomen in uniforms of long blue robes, light blue headscarves and navy hats.
Al Thani and Ismail Haniyeh (Photo: Reuters)
"I'm desperate, trying to find a job for my son," said Kifaya Gharabli, 42, who came early in the morning in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Qatari visitors.
Part of the aid package is a $150 million housing project near the southern town of Khan Younis. It will be built near the site of a former Israeli settlement, abandoned when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. The project is called Hamad City - after the Qatari emir - and will take about two years to build.
The rival Palestinian government in the West Bank has expressed deep reservations over the visit of oil-rich Qatar' emir. Fatah
officials said that they did not received an invitation for the reception. Hamas denied the claim saying a formal invitation had been extended.
On Monday, the PLO's executive committee discussed the visit during a meeting in Ramallah. A statement released after the meeting urged Arab leaders to work towards ending the split between Gaza and the West Bank and not pursue a policy that would result in the creation of a separate entity in Gaza.
Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmed expressed concern that the Qatari ruler's visit will be used to deepen the rift between the two groups.
On Tuesday, al-Quds al-Araby quoted a Palestinian source as saying that Al Thani had phoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
and promised him that his visit will not undermine the PLO's legitimacy as the sole body representing the Palestinian people.