Palestinian worker walks behind posters of Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in preparation for the upcoming visit to Gaza at Palestine stadium in Gaza City, Monday (Photo: AP)
The Emir of Qatar will on Tuesday be the first head of state to visit Gaza since Egypt and Israel launched a blockade of the Palestinian enclave in 2007, breaking the isolation of its Iran-backed rulers Hamas.
The official Qatar News Agency (QNA) said Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who has led Arab efforts to support rebels in Syria and Libya during Arab Spring revolts, had left Doha with a large delegation including his wife Sheikh Moza, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim and other ministers.
Gaza, under partial blockade by Israel and Egypt, has no airport or seaport, and the Qatari delegation was expected to enter by land from Egypt. QNA gave no details.
Sheikh Hamad is officially visiting the territory to inaugurate reconstruction projects worth over $250 million, which an envoy of his oil-rich, conservative Arab emirate unveiled in Gaza last week.
The emir will be the first foreign leader to go to Gaza under the rule of Hamas, an Islamist movement seen as a terrorist organization by Western powers but whose influence and aspirations in the Middle East conflict may be hard to ignore.
Western-allied Gulf Arab states are trying to lure Hamas away from its alliance with Iran, whose nuclear energy program has raised the prospect of a war with Israel.
Israel and Gaza are in a state of perpetual low-level conflict, marked by sporadic rocket attacks from Gaza by Islamic militant groups and air strikes by the Israeli forces.