Qatar's emir received a hero's welcome in the Gaza Strip Tuesday when he became the first head of state to visit the Palestinian territory since Islamist Hamas militants took control in 2007.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh greeted Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani on a red carpet after the Qatari leader crossed over from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Tuesday.
In a visit lasting several hours, Sheikh Hamad inaugurated a Qatari aid program to help Gaza rebuild from the damage caused by an Israeli offensive against Hamas in 2008. The program includes a new housing development to be named in his honor in the southern city of Khan Younis.
The Hamas leader also praised the Qatari emir for breaking what he called the "political and economic blockade imposed on Gaza by the forces of injustice."
Sheikh Hamad's visit marks a diplomatic boost for Hamas, which is shunned by Western powers which see the rival West Bank government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians.
Shortly after the emir left Gaza, Israeli air strikes killed three Hamas militants who Israel says were about to fire rockets into its territory. Earlier Tuesday, a Palestinian terrorist bomb seriously wounded an Israeli soldier patrolling the border with Gaza.
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, left, and Gaza's Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, right, arrive for the corner-stone laying ceremony for Hamad, a new residential neighborhood in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip October 23, 2012.
Palestinian Hamas security officers guard Gaza's main road as they wait for the convoy of the Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani to arrive in Gaza City, October 23, 2012.
Qatar's First Lady Sheika Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned attends a welcome ceremony upon her arrival at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, southern Gaza Strip, October 23, 2012.
Members of Hamas security forces sit between posters depicting senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) and Qatar's Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (R) in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip October 22, 2012.
Palestinian tailors Eyad Absi, left and Salama Ashour make Qatari flags in a shop for Tuesday's official visit of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in Gaza City, October 21, 2012.
A Palestinian worker walks behind posters of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, left, and Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, right, in preparation for the upcoming visit to Gaza at Palestine Monday, Oct. 22, 2012.
The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani waves to crowds as he sits next to Gaza's Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh following a welcome ceremony in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, October 23, 2012.