Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal visits Gaza

Friday 07 December 2012 19.37
Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal (C-L) and Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniya (C-R) wave from the rooftop of a vehicle
Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal (C-L) and Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniya (C-R) wave from the rooftop of a vehicle

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has arrived in Gaza for his first-ever visit.

The landmark trip reflects his militant group's burgeoning international acceptance.

Mr Meshaal had left the West Bank as a child and currently leads the Islamic movement from Qatar.

Mr Meshaal crossed the Egyptian border and was greeted by Hamas officials and representatives of the rival Fatah party.

He kissed the ground as Palestinian orphans - children of Gaza militants killed by Israel in recent years - rushed to greet him.

Mr Meshaal's visit comes after he led the Hamas delegation that accepted a truce to stop last month's eight-day conflict between Israel and Gaza.

Gaza officials are portraying the landmark visit as a celebration of what they call Hamas' victory in the recent fighting.

He will stay for a little more than 48 hours in the coastal enclave, which Hamas has ruled since a 2007 war with Fatah that rules the West Bank.

Hamas plans an open-air rally tomorrow to promote what it says was last month's victory against Israel, and at the same time commemorate the 25th anniversary of the group's founding.

Some 170 Palestinians and six Israelis, mostly civilians on both sides, died in last month's fighting. Israel denies that the conflict was a victory for Hamas, saying its air strikes severely weakened Hamas by taking out its missiles.

Tomorrow's rally is not being held on the exact date of Hamas's founding, but on the 25th anniversary of the start of the first Palestinian uprising, or intifada, against Israel.

That is being seen as an overture to other factions and a hint of a new willingness to seek reconciliation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls the West Bank.

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