Qatari minister: Gaza could turn into 'launching pad' for ISIS

Qatar's foreign minister warns that Israel's naval blockade could turn Gaza into an easy launching pad for ISIS recruiters.

Elad Benari,

Fishing boats near Gaza
Fishing boats near Gaza
Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90

Palestinian infighting and years of an Israeli blockade could turn Gaza into an easy "launching pad" for Islamic State (ISIS) recruiters, Qatar's foreign minister warned on Sunday, according to Reuters.

Foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said in an interview in Doha that a blockade imposed on Gaza's borders by Israel and Egypt had turned the territory into an "open-air prison".

"If we will leave them as they are, people from Daesh can recruit them easily. They can start operations from there easily," he told Reuters, using the Arabic acronym for the jihadist group.

"It (Gaza) can transform also as a launching pad for extremism and for terrorism ... That's why we need to put an end to this," he added.

Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is meant to prevent Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers from smuggling in weapons and explosives.

The United Nations-backed Palmer report, released in 2011, determined that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is perfectly legal. Despite that report, UN and EU officials have demanded that Israel lift the blockade.

Qatar is a major backer of Hamas and has provided more than 1,000 apartments to residents of Gaza whose homes were destroyed during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

Reports last year indicated that Qatar halted its financial support for Hamas in order to push the group to change its policy against Egypt, which Qatar had just reconciled with.

Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar said, however, that the report was completely untrue.

Sheikh Mohammed told Reuters that advancing unity efforts between Hamas and rival Fatah, which controls Palestinian Authority-assigned areas of Judea and Samaria, as well as easing the blockades should not be "forgotten about" because of war unfolding across the Middle East.

"We believe this will be a step for having some relief for the people of Gaza. Forgetting Palestine - postponing it until later - will be much riskier," he warned.