Qatari envoy says he’ll meet Israeli gas company to discuss pipeline to Gaza

Qatari envoy Mohammad al-Emadi will meet with officials from the Israeli Delek gas company to discuss plans for laying a natural gas pipeline to Gaza, according to a statement issued by al-Emadi’s Gaza Reconstruction Committee.

A spokesperson for Delek Drilling did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Such an official meeting between the Qatari envoy and the Israeli gas company would apparently be the first since a gas pipeline was initially proposed in 2015.

Al-Emadi arrived in Israel a week ago amidst rising tensions between Israel and Hamas with the task of mediating between the two sides.

Gaza-based groups were launching hundreds of explosive balloons as well as rockets across the border fence with Israel, which responded by conducting nightly airstrikes against Hamas targets and closing the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing with Gaza to fuel and construction materials.

Amidst fears of another round of serious violence, Hamas deputy Yahya Sinwar’s office announced Monday night that the terror group had accepted ceasefire terms with Qatari mediation. Israel tacitly indicated its consent by lifting the restrictions imposed on the Strip since the beginning of the escalation.

Between 2012 and 2018, Qatar sent more than $1.1 billion in aid to the Gaza Strip. Prominent Hamas leaders, including political chief Ismail Haniyeh, have taken up residence in Doha. For several years, the small Gulf country has enjoyed a critical position as a mediator between Israel and Hamas.

Qatar has long been a proponent of the gas project, which is hoped could resolve Gaza’s longstanding electricity deficit while decreasing dependence on outside sources of energy.

A Palestinian man, on the rooftop of his home, looks at Gaza’s power plant after it was shut down, in the town of Nusairat, central Gaza Strip, Aug. 18, 2020 (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

Gaza’s only power plant, which runs on diesel fuel, provides about one-third of the enclave’s electricity; the rest is provided by Israel.

Since 2006, Gazans subsist on around 11 to 12 hours of electricity a day. During crises — as when the power plant shut down two weeks ago after Israel banned fuel from entering the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing — that can drop to as low as three or four hours.

The pipeline could transfer up to one billion cubic meters (35 billion cubic feet) of gas from the Negev to Gaza every year, allowing the construction and operation of local power plants that would be able to supply nearly all of Gaza’s energy needs.

Plans for the pipeline have existed since 2015, but have been repeatedly hindered by cross-border violence and political considerations on both sides.

Al-Emadi said that he is also planning to meet on Tuesday with United Nations Special Envoy for the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov.

Al-Emadi will also distribute $17 million in aid to families in the Gaza Strip as part of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Qatari Gaza Reconstruction Committee said in a statement.

Around $7 million will be handed out in aid to those whose livelihoods have been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, while $10 million will be given to “needy families,” al-Emadi said.

The number is lower than the demands previously leaked by anonymous sources in Hamas to the Lebanese al-Akhbar newspaper, which would have seen as much as $40 million in Qatari aid distributed to the Strip.

Also under the deal, around 20,000 new coronavirus testing kits will be provided to the Gaza Strip, as well as an advanced coronavirus testing device, according to al-Emadi. Hamas health officials had previously warned the coastal enclave was dangerously low on coronavirus tests even as the number of cases outside of quarantine has risen.

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