Poems were recited and red carpets unfurled Tuesday as part of lavish ceremonies by the Islamist rulers of the Gaza Strip for their high-profile guest, the emir of Qatar.
The impoverished coastal enclave vibrated with the white and maroon colours of the Qatari flag and the green colour of Hamas, for the first visit to the territory by an Arab leader since the Islamists seized it in 2007.
Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya led a delegation of top officials to welcome Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani as he arrived in Gaza through the Rafah border post from Egypt.
Haniya and Sheikh Hamad, surrounded by bodyguards, stood side by side as a marching band played the Palestinian and Qatari national hymns.
As a sign of the importance of this landmark visit, Haniya’s wife Amal, who is also known as Omm el-Abed — or mother of Abed, one of the couple’s sons from among 13 children — made her first public appearance.
Omm al-Abed wore a black floor-length robe and a long white veil that covered her head and her shoulders next to the emir’s statuesque wife, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, who wore an elegant black turban and robe of the same colour with trimmings made of traditional Palestinian cross stitch.
The men, followed by their wives, walked down the red carpet inspecting an honour guard and later Sheikh Hamad greeted top Hamas officials, among them local leader Mahmud Zahar and Saleh Aruri who had come from exile in Turkey.
In the southern city of Khan Yunis, the Qatari royals received another warm welcome as Sheikh Hamad opened a project to build a 1,000-home compound for impoverished families to be known as “Emir Hamad City.”
Residents gave the couple a rapturous welcome and a girl in traditional Palestinian dress recited an ode of praise written specially for the occasion.
Haniya hailed the visit as a “victory” over the political and economic siege imposed by Israel on his Islamist government.
“You are officially declaring the end of the political and economic blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by the forces of injustice and tyranny,” he told the emir.
Israel has imposed a punitive blockade on Gaza since 2006, preventing Palestinians from bringing construction materials into the territory.
Children carrying huge portraits of Sheikh Hamad crowded at the side of the roads across Gaza.
Placards expressing gratitude for the projects he was launching festooned Salaheddin road which cuts Gaza from north to south. “Thanks to Qatar for holding its promises,” read one sign.
Last month, Doha said it would invest $254 million (195 million euros) in rebuilding Gaza, which sustained major damage during a 22-day Israeli military operation that began in late December 2008.
Haniya said on Tuesday that the emir agreed to increase that investment to $400 million (309 million euros).