UPDATE | 7:34pm
According to the Reuters, the Islamic University awarded the Emir and Sheikha Moza an honorary doctorate in appreciation of their support for the Palestinians. The university’s president also presented a key to symbolize the refugees’ right to return to their original homes inside Israel, a bottle of olive oil and a box containing “soil of Palestine.”
During his speech at the university, the Emir thanked Egypt for making his visit possible and criticized Israel for continuing its settlement-building program, Reuters reports.
UPDATE | 7:23pm
During a speech at Gaza’s Islamic University today, Sheikh Hamad urged Hamas and rival faction Fatah to reconcile.
“Why are you staying divided?” he said. “There are no peace negotiations, and there is no clear strategy of resistance and liberation. Why shouldn’t brothers sit together and reconcile?”
Despite his remarks, the Emir has caught flak for not visiting the West Bank, where Fatah controls the Palestinian Authority.
Here, Al Jazeera questions Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official, about Abbas’ lack of participation in the visit.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKAh-K0Jf9Y?rel=0]
UPDATE | 4:47pm
Qatar has increased its funding for infrastructure development in the Gaza Strip from $254 million to $415 million, Qatar News Agency reports.
According to QNA, that money would be spent on five main projects:
- Hamad Residential Town: A project that would include 1,060 housing units, two schools, a health centre, a commercial centre and a mosque in addition to infrastructure facilities, roads and green spaces.
- Hamad Medical City: The six-floor Hamad Hospital for Rehabilitation and Prosthetics will offer services for people with disabilities and injuries, as well as provide prosthetics service and cochlea implantation for deaf Children.
- Reconstruction of Salahuddin Street, which would stretch 28 km, from Wadi Gaza Bridge to Rafah Crossing in the South.
- Al-Rashid Street (the coastal road) and Al-Karama Street will also be rebuilt.
The Emir and his delegation have been participating in various ceremonies in Gaza, starting with the initial reception at the Rafah crossing by Ismail Haniya, the prime minister of the Hamas-run territory, and moving on to the laying of foundation stones at Hamad Residential Town, Hamad Medical complex and Salahuddin Street.
Haniya, meanwhile, has praised Qatar’s support for Gaza, saying:
“We, as a great people, today welcome a great man… today we are breaking the siege… Thank you, Your Highness the Emir… thanks to Qatar.”
“We today announce the victory over the siege through this blessed historic visit that will go down in history and will be remembered by the Palestinian and Arab nation generations.”
UPDATE | 3:55pm[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93BvTaSLTIw?rel=0]
In this report, Al Jazeera discusses the political implications of the Emir’s Gaza visit and shares his itinerary for the trip.
Sheikh Hamad and his wife, first lady Sheikha Moza, will only be in Gaza for six hours. The couple and their delegation already received a red-carpet welcome at the Rafah border crossing earlier today. Also on the agenda: laying foundation stones at a Qatar-funded hospital and the Hamad City housing project, which involves the construction of some 1,000 houses for impoverished Palestinians.
Sheikh Hamad will also reportedly meet senior Hamas officials and try to convince them to continue talks with rival party Fatah in Cairo. Finally, the Emir will address Palestinians at one of the main stadiums in Gaza, AJE reports.
UPDATE | 1:30pm
Here’s the football stadium where the Emir is expected to address a crowd of Palestinians later today:
Photo by Jon Donnison, BBC correspondent, on Twitter.
UPDATE | 12:09pm
Qatar’s Emir has begun his landmark visit to Gaza, the BBC reports.
A convoy of 30 new SUVs and minivans and several dozen Qatari security men has crossed through the Egyptian border last night to prepare for the Emir’s historic visit to Gaza.
QNA officially confirmed Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani’s visit yesterday, a week after initial reports surfaced that the Emir would become the first Arab head of state to visit Gaza since 2007, when Hamas took control of the Palestinian territory.
According to the state news agency, the Emir, Sheikha Moza and the Prime Minister will pay a “short visit to Gaza, during which he will inaugurate a number of projects funded by Qatar as part of its efforts of Gaza reconstruction.”
The trip is widely seen as a victory for Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for the last five years without recognition from the international community, which views Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank as the leader of the people.
Abbas has expressed “deep reservations” over the visit, AP states:
“Such visits give Hamas the impression that the visitors recognize their rule and that would reinforce the split and not help the reconciliation,” (Abbas aide Nimr Hamad) said…
But despite the dismay expressed among some of the Palestinian leadership, many in Gaza appear excited to welcome the Emir. AP continues:
Streets were decorated with white and maroon Qatari flags and signs thanking the Gulf nation for its support. Hamas’ Interior Ministry, which oversees security, said it had a “well prepared plan” to protect the emir, deploying thousands of security men and blocking roads to Gaza City’s main soccer stadium, where the Qatari leader was expected to address a packed audience.
We’ll keep you updated on what’s going on as it happens.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Qatar Eye