Relatives mourn at the funeral of a Palestinian protester in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on November 10. Photo: AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defended the decision to permit Qatar to transfer millions of dollars to Hamas-controlled Gaza. The move, aimed at restoring peace after months of unrest in the Palestinian enclave, was met with criticism from within his government.

The Israeli-authorised transfer appeared to be part of negotiations that would end the Islamist movement’s protracted and violent protests along the border in exchange for Israel easing its Gaza Strip blockade.

Netanyahu’s comments late Saturday were his first on the matter since Israel allowed the money transfer to the enclave.

“I’m doing what I can, in coordination with the security establishment, to return quiet to the southern communities, but also to prevent a humanitarian crisis,” Netanyahu said, referring to Israeli towns near the Gaza border and deteriorating living conditions in the enclave.

Netanyahu said Israeli security officials supported the move and that ministers in his security cabinet approved it.

“We held serious discussions,” he said. “I think we’re acting in a responsible and wise way.”

However, Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s education minister and right-wing rival, compared the transfer to “protection money” paid to criminals.

– With reporting from Agence France-Presse