Secular Palestinian groups have slammed the visit of the Qatari Emir to Gaza for reinforcing divisions between the Islamist Hamas and Fatah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who stepped into Gaza via Egypt on Tuesday, was accorded a high-profile welcome by the Hamas, led by Ismail Haniyeh, the group’s Prime Minister in the coastal strip.

Mr. Haniyeh later announced that the wealthy Qatari royal had decided to donate $400 million. The package includes funds for a $150-million housing project near the southern town of Khan Younis. The project, close to an abandoned Israeli settlement, would be named Hamad City after the Qatari Emir.

Fatah responded furiously, urging its supporters to boycott the Emir’s visit. It said the visit undermined Palestinian aspirations for independence by deepening divisions between Hamas and Fatah — exposed since 2007 when Hamas ousted its rival from Gaza. It alleged the visit was being undertaken to enhance Qatari influence in the region at the cost of Palestinian unity. “Looking for a political power in the region at the expense of the Palestinian people and their rights and unity is unacceptable,” said Fatah in a statement.

It said those using Palestinian suffering for their own “narrow goals” should, instead, look for ways to support Palestinians to achieve their rights.

Fatah stressed that all aid to Palestinians should be moved through the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. Formed as a political and paramilitary body in 1964, the PLO has been recognised by the U.N. as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”.

Invitation

The Palestinian Ma’an news agency earlier quoted Fatah leader Yahya Rabah as saying that his group had not been invited by Qatar or Hamas to meet Sheikh al-Thani. However, Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nunu stressed that Fatah had declined the invitation to attend the welcome function organised for the Emir

Some analysts saw the visit as punishment for Fatah for seeking international recognition for a Palestinian state. Leader of the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, Mohammad al-Ziq, said the Emir’s visit would deepen divisions and legitimise the split among Palestinians at a time when the PLO was seeking full-fledged U.N. membership. The Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) said the Emir’s visit “is serving the Israeli occupation and will enhance the geographic division between Gaza and the West Bank”.

Observers say that Hamas has been an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has made major political gains in Egypt after the Arab Spring, and has been actively backed, with western support, by Qatar and Turkey in the region.

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