Gaza’s rulers Hamas said on Thursday they would not accept a fresh tranche of Qatari funds, accusing Israel of imposing new conditions on the money entering the blockaded Palestinian territory.
The rejection of the expected $15 million raised fears of fresh tensions along the Gaza-Israel border, ahead of weekly protests on Friday.
“We refuse to receive the third Qatari grant in response to the (Israeli) occupation’s behavior and attempts to evade the agreement,” Khalil al-Hayya, Hamas’s deputy head in Gaza, told journalists.
Under an informal agreement struck in November, Qatar has sent $15 million a month into the strip.
The funds to pay salaries of Hamas employees and support impoverished Gazans are in exchange for relative calm along the border, where often violent protests have taken place since March 2018.
Israel’s permission is required since the cash must be delivered via its territory.
Hamas is labelled a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, and banks are hesitant to make the transfer.
Netanyahu blocks third tranche
The third tranche had been expected to enter this week but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blocked it on Tuesday after two shooting incidents along the Gaza border, including one in which a soldier was lightly injured.
Al-Hayya did not name specific conditions that were changed, but said Israel was playing politics with the funds ahead of upcoming general elections.
The Israel Hayom newspaper reported that Netanyahu had proposed conditions on when the funds be dispersed, including a suggestion that they would be given out on Fridays before weekly protests to dampen enthusiasm for violence.
Netanyahu is running for a fifth term in April elections and has faced criticism from right-wing Israelis who accuse him of being too soft on Hamas.
Mohammed al-Emadi, ambassador of the Gulf state to Gaza, met Thursday in the enclave with Hamas officials, including leader Ismail Haniya.
Friday’s protests will be seen as a key test of whether Hamas wishes to increase tensions along the border.
Loudspeakers in Gaza on Thursday evening encouraged Palestinians to go to the border after prayers the following day for the protests.
At least 244 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March, mostly during border clashes but also by tank fire and air strikes.
Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period.
Protesters are calling for Palestinian refugees in Gaza to be able to return to their former lands now inside Israel.
Israel accuses Hamas of controlling the protests and using them as cover to carry out attacks.