Meshaal has spoken publicly about the need for Palestinian unity
Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal gives a press conference at the Intercontinental Hotel in Cairo on November 21, 2012. Meshaal is to make his first-ever visit to the Gaza Strip at the end of next week, accompanied by top officials, a senior Hamas source said on Wednesday. © Gianluigi Guercia - AFP/File
Meshaal has spoken publicly about the need for Palestinian unity
AFP
Last updated: November 28, 2012

Hamas chief Meshaal due in Gaza next week

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal is to make his first-ever visit to the Gaza Strip at the end of next week, accompanied by top officials, a senior Hamas source said on Wednesday.

"Meshaal will arrive in the Gaza Strip accompanied by a number of members of the Hamas politburo-in-exile a day before the Hamas anniversary, to participate in the celebrations," the source said, referring to the start of festivities on December 8 to mark the Islamist movement's 25th birthday.

The actual date of the anniversary is December 14, but this year the celebrations are starting early.

News of the visit was confirmed to AFP by two other sources, each of whom spoke on condition of anonymity.

Should the trip go ahead, it would be a historic first for Meshaal who was born in the West Bank but went into exile after the 1967 Six Day War.

He had been due to visit Gaza at the start of this year but the trip never happened.

The visit would come just two weeks after Hamas and Israel agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire deal which ended more than a week of deadly fighting that claimed the lives of more than 170 Palestinians and six Israelis.

The fighting was sparked by Israel's targeted killing of top Hamas military chief Ahmed Jaabari in an air strike on November 14.

Founded in 1987 shortly after the beginning of the first intifada, or uprising, against Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Hamas was inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

Its charter calls for the eventual destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state on the pre-1948 borders of the British Palestine Mandate.

In 2006, Hamas won a landslide victory in Palestinian elections, routing the long-dominant Fatah party of president Mahmud Abbas, and took over Gaza in June 2007 after months of factional unrest.

The two factions signed a reconciliation deal in late April 2011 in Cairo, pledging to set aside years of bitter enmity, form a consensus interim government and work towards presidential and legislative elections within a year.

But implementation of the deal has stalled, with the two sides failing to agree on the make-up of the interim government and the promised elections never taking place.

Meshaal has spoken publicly about the need for Palestinian unity, at times clashing with members of his organisation in the Gaza Strip, who have taken a harder line on Fatah, and accused him of acting without consulting them.

The trip will also come directly after Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, the head of the rival Fatah movement, goes to the United Nations General Assembly to submit a bid for non-member state status for the Palestinians.

The bid is expected to succeed, despite fierce opposition from Israel and the United States, boosting Abbas's profile and opening up a range of international organisations to the Palestinians.

Hamas's Gaza leadership had been publicly sceptical of the bid, but changed their tone this week after Meshaal declared his backing for the status upgrade request in a telephone call with Abbas.

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