Qatar announces $150 million aid to Gaza

GAZA: A tanker delivers fuel at the Gaza power plant in Nuseirat, in the central Gaza Strip. Trucks carrying Qatari-bought fuel entered the Gaza Strip on October 9 to help power the Palestinian enclave’s only power station. —AFP

JERUSALEM: Israel's military said it destroyed a Hamas-built tunnel extending into its territory from the Gaza Strip yesterday that was intended for attacks. Military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said it was the 15th such tunnel discovered and destroyed by Israel in the past year. There were no indications of casualties linked to the destruction of the tunnel around one kilometer in length (less than a mile) and which originated from the Khan Yunis area of southern Gaza.

It extended around 200 meters into Israeli territory, Conricus said, adding Israel's army had been monitoring its construction for several months. He declined to elaborate on how the tunnel was destroyed, but said "combat engineering means" were used. Conricus called it a "complex tunnel system with various connections and branches." Israel has in recent months employed technology to detect and destroy tunnels without bombing them, including by filling them with material to make them unusable.

Israel is also building an underground wall around the blockaded Gaza Strip to stop tunnel digging. Work on the massive project is expected to be completed by the end of 2019, Conricus said. Conricus alleged Hamas used new methods in building the tunnel destroyed Thursday that seemed intended to evade Israel's detection methods. He declined however to provide specifics, but noted it was equipped with electricity and communication hardware. The destruction of the tunnel comes amid months of protests and clashes along the Gaza border that have raised fears of a fourth war since 2008 between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Palestinian enclave.

At least 198 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza since the protests began on March 30, while one Israeli soldier has been shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in that time. Israel says its actions during the protests and clashes are necessary to defend the border and stop infiltrations and attacks, which it accuses Hamas of seeking to carry out. Palestinians and rights groups say protesters have been shot while posing little threat. The last conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza in 2014 was waged in part over tunnels that were used to carry out attacks within Israel.

Aid to Gaza

Meanwhile, Qatar has pledged $150 million in aid for Gaza, a day after fuel purchased by the Gulf state arrived at the only power station in the Hamas-run enclave. A statement from Doha's foreign ministry said the money had been pledged via the Qatar Development Fund, the government body responsible for distributing the country's foreign aid. "Under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Amir of Qatar, the Qatar Development Fund has pledged $150 million in humanitarian aid to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the besieged Gaza Strip," the ministry said.

It added that the United Nations Development Program would oversee distribution of the aid. The UN estimated the value of Qatar's earlier donation of fuel at $60 million. The world body says Israel's 11-year blockade of the enclave, ruled by Islamist movement Hamas, has resulted in a "catastrophic" humanitarian situation.

Gaza's two million residents endure dire living conditions including a shortage of safe drinking water and regular power cuts, partly due to a lack of fuel for the strip's power station. For months Gaza residents have been receiving an average of just four hours of mains electricity a day. Gaza residents have staged regular protests since March along the territory's border with Israel, sparking deadly gunfire from Israeli troops and fears of an all-out conflict between Hamas and Israel, which have fought three wars since 2008.

Hamas has been in control of Gaza since 2007. Much of the international community considers the group a terrorist organization and Hamas has rejected calls to recognize Israel. Qatar, which has poured billions into Gaza, is home to former prominent members of Hamas including ex-leader Khaled Meshaal. Those ties came under intense scrutiny when a diplomatic crisis broke out in June 2017, pitting Qatar against a Saudi-led bloc that accuses the gas-rich emirate of supporting "extremists" and being too close to Iran. Qatar denies the charges.- Agencies