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Qatari aid to besieged Gaza Strip expected in coming days

Israeli media reports that the country's security cabinet has agreed to allow in the vital funds, which it has been blocking, as early as Friday
The Qatari payment, which would come through the Erez crossing, would be the third of six planned tranches, totalling $90m (Reuters)

Qatari aid money is expected to be delivered to the Gaza Strip in the coming days after Israel blocked its delivery over hostilities in the besieged enclave, a source close to Qatar's ambassador has said.

Mohammed al-Emadi, ambassador of the Gulf state to Gaza, entered the strip through the Erez crossing from Israel late on Wednesday, the source reported.

The envoy had expected to bring the $15m in funds - to be used to pay Hamas civil servants and provide support for impoverished Gazans - with him, but Israel decided to block the delivery.

"We expect the third payment to be allowed to enter Gaza in the coming days," the source told the AFP news agency without giving more details.

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Israeli media reported on Thursday that the country's security cabinet had agreed to permit the Qatari money to be brought into Gaza as early as Friday.

The funds transfer was expected to begin on Thursday, to be distributed to officials in Gaza only on Friday afternoon, Israel's Haaretz newspaper said.

The payment would be the third of six planned tranches, totalling $90m.

Israel's original decision to block the Qatari funds came after a Palestinian affiliated with Hamas, the de facto ruling party in Gaza, was killed and four others wounded by Israeli tank fire on Tuesday.

The Israeli army said it had targeted a Hamas observation post after one of its soldiers was lightly wounded earlier on Tuesday when a bullet struck his helmet.

Later on Tuesday, the Israeli army said its war planes had conducted an attack against a purported Hamas site in northern Gaza. No injuries were reported following the operation.

'Lethal' reaction

Netanyahu is campaigning for re-election on 9 April and the payments from Qatar have sparked opposition from right-wing activists and politicians.

On Wednesday, the Israeli prime minister warned of a "lethal" reaction to any hostilities in Gaza.

"Maybe there is someone in Gaza who thinks he can stick his head up," Netanyahu told soldiers at a military exercise in southern Israel.

"I suggest that they understand that the response will be lethal and very painful."

Palestinians have been protesting every Friday since 30 March as part of the Great March of Return.

The protest campaign calls for an end to the nearly 12-year Israeli blockade on Gaza and for Palestinian refugees' right of return to the lands that their families fled during the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

At least 251 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and thousands injured since the demonstrations began, mostly by Israeli fire during protests but also by air and tank strikes.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period, one by a Palestinian sniper and another during a botched Israeli special forces operation within the Gaza Strip.

Israel maintains a crippling blockade of the small Palestinian enclave, which critics say amounts to collective punishment of the impoverished enclave's two million residents.

Egypt also upholds the siege, restricting movement in and out of Gaza on its border.