GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The ruler of Qatar is expected in the Gaza Strip this week, in what would be a major stamp of legitimacy for the territory's Islamic militant Hamas rulers.
Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani would be the first head of state to arrive here since Hamas seized Gaza five years ago, setting a strong signal that the Islamic militants are emerging from international isolation.
The leader of the gulf emirate is also set to launch $254 million worth of construction projects, including three roads, a hospital and a new town that will bring thousands of jobs to the impoverished territory.
Hamas' Palestinian opponents in the West Bank were watching the emir's plans with some concern. They fear that any gestures that strengthen Hamas' hold on Gaza will make the Islamists less inclined to end the Palestinian political rift.
The emir called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas late Sunday and informed him of his plans to visit Gaza and inaugurate construction projects there, said Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh. Abbas welcomed Qatar's aid to Gaza, but also called for pressure on Hamas to end the Palestinian political split, the spokesman said.
That rift broke open in 2007, after Hamas seized Gaza from the internationally backed Abbas. Since then, the two camps have run rival governments, Hamas in Gaza and Abbas in parts of the Israeli-controlled West Bank. Abbas hopes to negotiate the terms of Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem with Israel, while Hamas believes such efforts are a waste of time and instead is tightening its hold on Gaza.
The visit by the Qatari ruler — has been shrouded in secrecy. By late Sunday, Qatar had not made a formal announcement, leaving open the possibility that it could be called off at the last minute because of concerns over security or the political ramifications.
However, an Egyptian security official and officials in Gaza involved in arranging the trip said the emir is expected for a four-hour visit Tuesday.