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.