19:52 GMT24 June 2021
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    Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, said on Wednesday he would refuse international aid money in the wake of an 11-day war with Israel that destroyed thousands of Palestinian homes in the territory. However, he left the door open for construction projects by other nations.

    “I affirm our commitment not to take a single cent intended for reconstruction and humanitarian efforts,” Sinwar said in a Wednesday speech. “We have never taken a cent in the past.”

    On May 21, authorities in Gaza judged that 11 days of bombardment by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had destroyed at least 2,000 housing units and damaged another 15,000. Naji Sarhan, deputy of Gaza’s works and housing ministry, told the Associated Press that losses amounted to $150 million.

    Sinwar hasn’t refused all help from other countries, though: he noted that “we welcome any international or Arab effort to rebuild the Gaza Strip.”

    He added that Gaza has “sufficient financial resources… a large part of which are from Iran, and another part comes from Arab and Muslim donors and free people of the world who stand in solidarity with our people and their rights.”

    In January, Qatar pledged $360 million in aid to Gaza in the year 2021, an increase in the payments it has sent to the impoverished territory since 2018. The payments help cover the costs of electricity, civil service workers’ salaries, and monthly stipends to dozens of Palestinian families.

    Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also urged Muslim states last Friday to “support the Palestinian people, through military ... or financial support ... or in rebuilding Gaza's infrastructure.”
    Palestinians sit in a makeshift tent amid the rubble of their houses which were destroyed by Israeli air strikes during the Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    © REUTERS / MOHAMMED SALEM
    Palestinians sit in a makeshift tent amid the rubble of their houses which were destroyed by Israeli air strikes during the Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

    Sinwar’s comments come after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in the West Bank, to pledge US support for Palestinians after the war. Blinken said the US would seek to provide $75 million in development and economic assistance, including $5.5 million in “immediate disaster assistance” for Gaza and about $32 million for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

    However, Blinken said the money for Gaza must not benefit Hamas, which the US considers to be a terrorist organization. Sinwar said this was a ploy intended to widen the rift between Hamas and Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that rules the West Bank.

    “We will never fall for this trick and lash out at each other,” Sinwar said. 

    The PNA lost control over Gaza in 2006, when Hamas won elections there, and indecision about how to include Gaza and Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem has helped to delay another election since. The most recent attempt was called off just days before the fighting began, after Israeli authorities refused to allow Palestinian East Jerusalemites the opportunity to vote.

    At least 254 Palestinians were killed in the 11-day shooting war, as well as 12 Israelis. The IDF’s airstrikes began after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem, Israel’s self-proclaimed capital, in response to the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque by Israeli police in which more than 200 Palestinian Muslim worshippers and 17 police officers were injured. 

    Hamas called the operation “Sword of Jerusalem” and said it was defending Palestinians in the city. The Temple Mount showdown was the culmination of weeks of increasing violence between Israeli settlers and police on the one side, and Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank on the other.

    Sinwar referred to the rocket barrage as “but a drill for what will come is Israel violates the Al-Aqsa Mosque” again. “The occupation must know - Al-Aqsa has men who will defend it.”

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    Antony Blinken, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), international aid, Hamas, Gaza
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