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Fatah 'not invited' to meet Qatari emir

Oct. 22, 2012 5:58 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 24, 2012 5:27 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Fatah has not been invited to meet Qatar's emir who is due to visit the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, a Fatah leader said Monday.

Yahya Rabah told Ma'an that Fatah received no invitation from Qatar or the Hamas-led government in Gaza to meet Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Rabah, who is based in Gaza, said Fatah was not informed of the reason for the visit or any of the arrangements but said the trip raised questions.

Hamas government spokesman Taher al-Nunu said Hamas had invited Fatah to participate in the welcoming ceremony for the emir and his wife. Al-Nunu said Fatah official Atef Abu Saif responded with an official apology saying that party representatives would not attend.

Sheikh al-Thani will become the first head of state to enter the blockaded Gaza Strip. He is officially visiting the enclave to inaugurate reconstruction projects worth over $250 million to rebuild the war-torn enclave.

The emir had been expected to drive from Egypt's el-Arish airport to the Rafah crossing, but due to security concerns he will fly by military helicopter to the Egyptian border, an Egyptian military official told Ma'an on Monday.

The Qatari official is traveling with a 61-person delegation, including his wife and ministers. Egyptian security forces are on high alert in Sinai because of the visit, the military official added.

Sheikh al-Thani's trip will be loaded with political symbolism. The emir will be the first foreign leader to go to Gaza under the rule of Hamas, an Islamist movement that is outlawed by Israel and the West as a terrorist organization, but whose influence and aspirations in the Middle East conflict may be hard to ignore.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh issued a statement confirming the visit and urging "our people to express their good hospitality in welcoming the great visitor of Gaza".

Some residents put up Qatari flags in the streets of Gaza city. Others attacked the visit on social networks, questioning Qatar's intentions. Some posted pictures on their Facebook pages of the emir side-by-side with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

The Palestinian Authority's Wafa news agency said President Mahmoud Abbas was told of the Qatari visit in a phone call from the emir in Doha.

Sheikh al-Thani "told him of his desire to visit Gaza Strip to inaugurate some projects to reconstruct the strip", Wafa said.

"The president welcomed the effort by Qatar to support Gaza Strip, stressing on the unity of Palestinian land and ending division," the agency added. It said Abbas urged Hamas to implement signed agreements for the reconciliation of the two rival movements.

But Gaza and West Bank analysts say reconciliation is not on the cards. Hamas is shifting its ties away from Shiite Muslim Iran and wooing Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, its true spiritual mentor, which now runs the country.

Analysts say Hamas will use this major injection of Qatari aid and the visit of the emir to demonstrate that it has powerful friends, despite its isolation by the West.

Abbas and Fatah, by contrast, have reached a dead end in efforts to revive peace talks with Israel that were suspended two years ago, and have been weakened politically.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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