[credit provider=” Louai Beshara/Getty Images” url=”http://www.newstatesman.com/middle-east/2010/09/khaled-meshal-strip-king”]
The return of Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’s exiled leader, to Gaza is a sign that the organisation is becoming more accepted by the world, says Diplomatic Correspondent Alex Spillius.The Islamist group’s leader, who has not visited the Palestinian Territories since leaving the West Bank at age 11, emerged emboldened from the eight day conflict which ended in a ceasefire he negotiated under Egypt’s auspices.
Khaled Meshaal drove through the Rafah crossing into Gaza and then got out and kissed the ground before embracing Gaza’s Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya.
“I hope God will make me a martyr on the land of Palestine in Gaza,” Mr Meshaal said.
Hundreds of police and security forces were on duty at the Rafah crossing, some of them wearing black masks and riding in open trucks, with heavy machineguns attached to the rear.
The Telegraph’s diplomatic correspondent, Alex Spillius, says that the visit is a “sign that Hamas is beginning to become more accepted internationally.”
Israel, which once tried and failed to assassinate Meshaal, rejects Hamas’s assertion that it won the recent conflagration, that killed some 170 Palestinians and six Israelis. There was little mention of his visit in the Hebrew press.
Mr Meshaal will stay for a little more than 48 hours in the Gaza Strip, which his Islamist group has ruled since a 2007 civil war against its secular rival Fatah that runs the nearby West Bank.
Mr Meshaal, 56, left the West Bank with his family after the 1967 Middle East war, when Israel took control of the territory along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. He has never set foot in Gaza, home to some 1.7 million Palestinians.
Hamas plans an open-air rally on Saturday to celebrate last month’s fight with Israel, and at the same time commemorate the 25th anniversary of the group’s founding.
Mr Meshaal ran Hamas from exile in Damascus from 2004 until January this year when he quit the Syrian capital because of Iranian-backed President Bashar al-Assad’s war against Sunni Muslim rebels. He now divides his time between Qatar and Cairo.