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Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal yesterday entered Gaza amid jubilation among Palestinians who could not wait to touch and kiss him. Entering the Palestinian Territories after 37 years, Meshaal went down on his knees and kissed the soil of Gaza, which he said he hoped to be martyred on.
The 56-year firebrand leader had left the West Bank in 1967 for Jordan during the Arab-Israel war and returned for some time in 1975 couldn’t hold his emotions on returning to the land the liberation of which is his ultimate goal. The return of Meshaal came on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas and just days after brief war with Israel that claimed the lives of 174 Plaestinians. The conflict had ratcheted up tensions in the Middle East once again before Egypt brokered a truce after eight days of bloodshed.
The Hamas leader’s visit carried immense significance not only because it coincides with the militant Palestinian group’s anniversary but also because it comes just some days after its arch-rival Fatah —led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — won a victory at the United Nations by getting a “non-member observer” state status. Though the two organisations share a history of conflict with Hamas taking a militant approach to the liberation of Palestine and Fatah favouring a reconciliatory route, recent developments point to a thaw in ties between the two movements.
As Meshaal wiped his tears on return to Gaza after years of living in exile, the symbolism could hardly be lost. In 1997, it was Israeli spy agency Mossad that tried to assassinate him in Jordan. The secret service agents, disguised as Canadian tourists, botched an attempt to inject Meshaal with a poison that led to the Palestinian leader being hospitalised. A furious Jordanian king asked Israel to send an antidote to the poison making it conditional to the release of Israel’s agents some of whom were arrested. Meshaal survived the attempt on his life in Jordan but ultimately fell out with Amman in 1999 and left the country.
On crossing into Gaza from the Rafah border yesterday, the Hamas leader defied Israel that has been after his life for a long time. At the same time, he signalled a new turn of events by saying that he has got his third birth. Besides his birth in 1956, he considers the unsuccessful bid on his life to be his second birth. And the third birth, he said yesterday, was his return to Gaza.
The return to Gaza of Meshaal, whose organisation’s charter calls for the destruction of Israel, sends a powerful message and reinforces the victory obtained by Abbas. The peace process should be taken ahead from here, without any side contributing to a flare-up that may exacerbate the tensions in the region. Meshaal or Abbas, the only solution to the Palestinian problem is talks and a sustained commitment to the welfare of the Palestinian people in the long run.