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Hamas chief Meshaal due in Gaza on Friday

December 06, 2012

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is due to make his first visit to the Gaza Strip on December 7, 2012 for a two-day stay to join celebrations for Hamas's 25th anniversary and to take part in what the militant group says will be a victory rally after its recent conflict with Israel. -Reuters Photo

GAZA CITY: The Hamas government confirmed on Thursday that the Islamic movement's exiled politburo chief Khaled Meshaal was due in the Gaza Strip on Friday to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

The trip is set to be a historic one for Meshaal, who was born in the West Bank but has not visited the Palestinian territories since he went into exile after the 1967 Six-Day War.

He had been due to visit Gaza at the start of the year, but the trip never took place.

Hamas “announces the visit of Khaled Meshaal, head of the political bureau, tomorrow December 7, to participate in the celebration of the movement's 25th anniversary,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement.

Meshaal is to meet members of different Palestinian movements and residents of Gaza, “as well as representatives of the families of martyrs, prisoners and those injured in the last Israeli aggression against Gaza,” the statement added.

The visit, Abu Zuhri added, was “a fruit of the victory of the resistance over the occupation.”

Meshaal's wife arrived in Gaza late Thursday afternoon ahead of her husband, officials at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt said.

Meshaal's trip comes after a ceasefire that ended eight days of conflict between Israel and Gaza militant groups.

The violence began on November 14, with Israel's targeted killing of Hamas military commander Ahmed Jaabari, and left 174 Palestinians dead, including more than 100 civilians, as well as six Israelis, four civilians and two soldiers.

The chief of Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Shallah, had also been expected to attend the anniversary celebrations, but a source in the movement in Gaza said Thursday he would likely be forced to cancel the trip over Israeli objections.

“The Egyptians told Ramadan Shallah that they (Israeli leaders) would end the ceasefire if he came to Gaza,” the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Islamic Jihad had contacts with the Egyptians on this question and Ramadan Shallah will most likely cancel the visit that was planned for Gaza tomorrow,” he added.

Hamas marks its official anniversary on December 14, but celebrations are set to begin earlier with a major rally on Saturday, when Meshaal is expected to speak.

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 it expelled Fatah and took over Gaza in June 2007 after months of factional unrest.