Qatar sends technical experts to Israel, eyeing new Gaza power line
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams
GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A Qatari technical delegation held talks in Israel and the Gaza Strip this week about helping pay for a proposed new power line between them, officials on both sides said on Tuesday, marking a potential expansion of Doha's aid efforts for Palestinians.
Qatar has in recent years funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into relief projects in Hamas-controlled Gaza, which it views as helping stave off privation and fighting with Israel.
The intervention is approved by Israel but has gone largely unacknowledged by rightist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, along with U.S.-allied Arab leaders, has cold-shouldered Doha for its ties to Iran and Islamist groups like Hamas.
Spearheading the Qatari drive has been envoy Mohammed Al-Emadi, who Palestinian officials said this week brought $10 million to Gaza, via Israel, to disburse to the poor.
It was the third such Qatari cash infusion in three months, said the officials, who requested anonymity. But this time Al-Emadi was accompanied by Qatari electricity and water experts.
They met with the Israel Electric Corporation in Tel Aviv on Sunday, and in Gaza with energy officials on Monday, to discuss a Qatari offer to pay for the completion of a new Gaza electricity line, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.
Qatar had no immediate comment. Al-Emadi has previously spoken of Doha's willingness to take part in the project, whose cost he put at around $60 million.
The new line - known as Line 161 - would provide 100 megawatts to Gaza, which currently gets a total of 120 megawatts from Israel, short of the 500 megawatts to 600 megawatts that Palestinians say the blockaded enclave needs.
Beside averting some of Gaza's chronic blackouts, an improved electricity supply would also help power sewage pumps and prevent water contamination plaguing 2 million Palestinians.
"It will make a difference," said a Palestinian official. "Maybe we will not have electricity 24/7, but people may begin to feel there isn't a power crisis anymore."
An Israeli official said, however, that Line 161 would take around three years to complete and that it was not clear if or when the caretaker Netanyahu government might approve it. The prime minister's office had no immediate comment.
Netanyahu is running for reelection in September having failed to put together a new conservative coalition after coming ahead in an April ballot - partly due to far-right accusations that he has not been tough enough on Hamas.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)