Qatar's Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani became the first head of state to visit Gaza since the Hamas terrorist organization seized control of the territory in June 2007, Ynetnews reported Tuesday. The visit was facilitated by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood-led government, which issued a statement praising the move as part of its campaign "to break the siege on the people" of Gaza.
It marked a major reversal in Qatar's relationship with Israel, which until January 2009 included clandestine talks and growing bilateral trade relations. The Qatari leader denounced Israel's policies and praised the people of Gaza for standing up to the Jewish state with their "bare chests." The Associated Press called it Hamas' "biggest diplomatic victory since taking power five years ago."
Hamas, for its part, was thrilled by what was "a state visit in all but name."
"It is the first visit by an Arab leader at this level to Gaza," Hamas said in a statement. "This breaks the political isolation of the government and opens the door to break the siege."
Despite vehement opposition from the Palestinian Authority and Israel, Sheik Khalifa also pledged $400 million for the beleaguered territory. Israel accused Qatar of taking sides against the Palestinian Authority government and claimed the decision was "hurting the Palestinians and the chance of pulling Gaza out of the mud and onto the road for peace."
An aide to Palestinian President Abbas, Nimr Hamad, condemned Khalifa for giving "the impression that the visitors recognize their rule and that would reinforce the split [between Palestinian factions] and not help the reconciliation."
Hamas has widely benefited from the creation of new Islamist regimes and the fall of Arab dictators. Islamist governments in Tunisia and Egypt have welcomed the Gazan terrorist group, despite attempts by the United States to crack down on its funding. Hamas has also profited from the flow of weapons out of Libya since Muammar Gaddafi's fall.