JERUSALEM, Israel -- Tuesday's visit by Qatar Emir al-Thani has "great political significance," Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nunu said. And few would disagree.
In the first visit by a head of state since the 2007 bloody military coup that left Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani arrived Tuesday morning via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, accompanied by about 50 people.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh greeted the Qatari delegation in a ceremony that included an honor guard. Al-Thani is accompanied by his wife and Crown Prince Tamim bin Hamad, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani, business leaders, security personnel, and other prominent figures.
During the brief visit, the delegation will tour some of the sites funded by Qatar's $400 million investment project in Gaza.
Many see the emir's visit as an attempt to end Hamas' political isolation by sweeping aside conditions articulated by the Quartet (U.S., E.U., U.N. and Russia), namely to end terrorism, accept Israel's right to exist, and abide by previously signed agreements between Israel and the P.A., before emerging from international isolation.
The United States, U.K., and Canada all consider Hamas a terror organization.
For Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the emir's visit seriously impedes his efforts to convince the world the P.A. government is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian Arab population in Israel.
According to Hamas, Abbas declined an invitation to participate in welcoming ceremonies.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor called it "quite strange that the emir of Qatar should choose sides within the Palestinian camp," the Jerusalem Post reported.
"What this visit means is that he sides with Hamas and not with the P.A., which he never visited," Palmor said.