GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- The emir of Qatar on Tuesday became the first head of state to visit the Gaza Strip since Hamas militants seized the territory five years ago, showering almost half a billion dollars and unprecedented political recognition on the Islamic militant group.
The arrival of Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani gave Hamas its biggest diplomatic victory yet since taking control of Gaza in 2007.
The visit highlighted the tumultuous changes that have swept the region during the Arab Spring events over the past two years, pushing once-shunned Islamic movements to the forefront of Mideast politics. Qatar, an oil-rich Gulf state, has encouraged these changes by backing efforts for the ouster of secular regimes.
The emir may use his leverage to lure Hamas hard-liners away from their longtime patron Iran, the regional rival of Qatar and other Sunni Muslim-led states.