THE emir of Qatar has begun his visit to the Gaza Strip, the first head of state to visit the Palestinian territory since Islamist Hamas militants seized control five years ago.
An honour guard awaited Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani at Gaza’s southern border crossing, where he entered from Egypt.
The emir will deliver £159m in aid to the territory, a move that will bolster Hamas and ease its international isolation.
The visit is seen in Israel to reflect the rising influence of Hamas’s parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, since last year’s popular uprisings.
Oil-rich Qataris insist the visit is purely humanitarian.
The emir is expected to launch building projects, including three roads, a hospital and a new town that will bring thousands of jobs to the impoverished territory.
The economic boost is sure to help Hamas’s standing, especially at a time when the rival government in the West Bank struggles to stay afloat because of international donors’ failure to deliver promised funding.