Israel says it reached an agreement with Qatar and the United Nations on a mechanism to transfer aid from the Gulf State to the besieged Gaza Strip, boosting prospects for relief in the Palestinian enclave after it was devastated in an Israel-Hamas conflict.
Aid disbursement after the May fighting has been held up in part by a dispute from Israel about Hamas and debate about how to prevent the group from accessing such funds.
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Hamas, the Palestinian group which governs Gaza, has pledged not to touch the donor money, which has emerged as a key issue in Egypt-mediated talks following a May 21 truce that mostly halted hostilities.
Announcing a deal on Thursday, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said he had been in touch with Qatar “to establish a mechanism that ensures the money reaches those in need, while maintaining Israel’s security needs”.
Under the new mechanism, aid from Qatar “will be transferred to hundreds of thousands of Gazan people by the UN directly to their bank accounts, with Israel overseeing the recipients,” Gantz said in a statement.
Gantz added that Israel will continue its “pressure campaign for the return of the Israeli soldiers and citizens that are being held hostage by Hamas”, referring to two soldiers missing in action in a 2014 Gaza war, and two civilians who slipped separately into the enclave.
There was no immediate comment from Hamas, which has not detailed the conditions of the four Israelis.
Qatar has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to Gaza’s poorest families in recent years. The funds have been a key source of stability for the impoverished territory, where unemployment is hovering at approximately 50 percent.
But since the May conflict, Israel has blocked the payments, insisting on safeguards that none of the money will reach Hamas. Under the system before the war, some $30m in cash was delivered in suitcases to Gaza each month through an Israeli-controlled crossing.
Qatar’s Gaza Strip Reconstruction Committee said it signed a memorandum of understanding with the UN to distribute $100 to each of about 100,000 families starting in September.
More than 4,000 Gaza homes were destroyed or damaged during the May fighting, with losses estimated by the World Bank at up to $380m. Egypt and Qatar have each pledged $500m for Gaza reconstruction.
At least 250 Palestinians and 13 in Israel were killed during May fighting.