GAZA: Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal will make his first visit to the Gaza Strip tomorrow to attend the Palestinian Islamist group’s 25th anniversary rally, Hamas sources said yesterday.
The two-day visit comes in the wake of last month’s air offensive by Israel against Hamas and other armed Islamist factions to stop them firing rockets from the enclave at southern Israeli towns.
Gaza has become Hamas’ stronghold since it evicted the rival Palestinian Fatah movement by force in 2007, with Ismail Haniyeh as its prime minister in the narrow coastal territory blockaded by Israel in coordination with southern neighbour Egypt.
Meshaal ran the group from exile in Damascus from 2004 until January this year when he quit the Syrian capital because of President Bashar Al Assad’s bloody war with fellow-Sunni Muslim rebels. He now divides his time between Doha and Cairo.
It was unclear whether Meshaal’s visit would mark the conclusion of a secretive Hamas internal leadership election that has been going on for the past six months. He had declared that he wanted to leave the post, but he may bow to those among the movement’s top ranks and its allies who believe he ought to remain in command.
The eight-day battle between Israeli warplanes and Palestinian rockets ended on November 21 in a ceasefire, brokered by Egypt. Meshaal called it a victory over the Jewish state. Around 170 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians, and six Israelis including two soldiers lost their lives.
Hamas sources said the visit by Meshaal, 56, was coordinated with Cairo officials.
Hamas denied seeking guarantees via Egyptian contacts with Israel that he would not be targeted for assassination in Gaza. Senior Hamas official Salah Al Bardaweel said the group’s security and armed forces would protect him.
Meshaal can expect a warm reception. Members of the movement’s armed wing will guard his convoy on the 30km route from Rafah on the Egyptian border north to Gaza City.
He has scheduled a stop at the house of the group’s founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, whom Israel assassinated in 2004, then visit the mourning house of Ahmed Al Jaabari, the Hamas chief of staff whom Israel killed on November 14, triggering the fighting.
Meshaal was expelled from Jordan in 1999, and moved to Qatar and then to Damascus in 2001. He survived a Mossad assassination attempt in Amman in 1997, when Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was last in power.
Under Meshaal’s leadership since 2004, the Islamists have refused to renounce their claim to all of pre-1948 “Palestine”, but have been willing to accept a de facto Palestinian state on the lands Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War.
Hamas rejects Israel’s right to exist on the rest of the land and says it will not agree to a permanent peace treaty.Reuters