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Gaza turns into fortress for Qatar Emir’s visit

Hamas closes Rafah border crossing amid unprecedented security measures

  • Gaza residents display a Qatari flag near the Rafah border crossing with Egypt prior to the unprecedented visiImage Credit: AFP
  • Emir of Qatar Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani (left) and Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Esmail Haniya (righImage Credit: AP
Gulf News

Dubai: The Gaza Strip witnessed unprecedented security measures being put in place by Hamas in connection with the visit of Qatari Emir Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani to the blockaded territory amid tension over ongoing skirmishes with Israel.

Thousands of security personnel were deployed on Gaza’s main roads and junctions in preparation for the first visit to the enclave by a head of state since it came under the control of the Hamas resistance movement five years ago.

Extensive security procedures were in place since the early hours of Tuesday which included the closing of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and the deployment of special forces and security personnel belonging to the Hamas government’s Ministry of Interior as well as personnel from Qatari security agencies.

Ministry of Interior spokesperson Islam Shahwan told The Kuwaiti News Agency that all security agencies across the enclave — from Rafah in the south to Bait Hanoon in the north — were involved in finalising security preparations . The Rafah crossing had been closed to secure Shaikh Hamad’s 23-vehicle convoy and prevent “any disruptions to the historic visit”, he said.

Shahwan added that a Qatari security delegation had arrived on Sunday in Gaza prior to the Emir’s arrival to coordinate security procedures. The arrangements included the setting up of an operations room, an emergency committee and a security force consisting of special units from the police, and security services. A convoy of some 30 brand new sports utility vehicles and minivans, along with several dozen Qatari security personnel, crossed the Egyptian border in preparation for the visit.

Shaikh Hamad took a helicopter from the airport in the Egyptian town of Al Arish to the Egyptian side of Rafah before crossing by land into the Gaza Strip. According to reports, Egypt’s Republican Guard had assumed full security control on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing on Monday night, granting the regular border guards a day off from their duties.

Just hours before the Emir’s arrival however, an Israeli soldier was severely injured when a bomb went off beside an army patrol in Israel along the boundary with Gaza. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the attack by warning that Israel will “fight and… hit them very, very hard”.

The attack took place following Israel’s killing of two Palestinian fighters on Monday, one of whom was a Hamas gunman.

Although Hamas is hostile to Israel, it has regularly sought to stay out of recent cross-border confrontations as it shores up its rule in Gaza in the face of more radical challengers and reaches out to potential Arab allies abroad.

The Israeli military said the soldier injured in the attack was on a “routine patrol adjacent to the security fence in the central Gaza Strip”.

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