Hamas leader returns to Gaza to a hero's welcome

Khaled Meshaal is making his first visit in 45 years to celebrate the founding of the group

Jerusalem

Khaled Meshaal, the exiled political leader of Hamas, will receive a hero’s welcome when he arrives in Gaza this week for his first visit to the Palestinian territories for 45 years, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the group.

It will be Mr Meshaal’s first ever visit to Gaza, which has been ruled by Hamas since it overthrew the Fatah administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. Both Hamas – whose name is an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement – and Fatah are trying to gain domestic support as they try to revive stalled unity talks and hold a long-overdue general election.

The anniversary celebrations have been brought forward by a week to help Hamas maintain its political momentum following the end of the recent conflict with Israel that brought a flood of foreign dignitaries and delegations to Gaza for the first time since Hamas took power.

In Ramallah, the rival Fatah leadership is also riding high on last week’s UN General Assembly victory that upgraded Palestine to a non-member observer state. President Abbas was greeted by a large crowd when he returned from New York this week and is hoping for another popular boost when he welcomes King Abdullah of Jordan for a visit.

On Monday, 12 Fatah fighters who fled Gaza in 2007 were welcomed back and promised an amnesty by Hamas leaders, eager to enhance the spirit of reconciliation. “Join the resistance and stop wasting time. Let’s put our hands together and carry the gun,” urged a senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar.

“I tell Fatah members: those who want to join the victors and who want to celebrate and feel honoured and carry the gun – we open our arms to them on the basis of resistance. Those who want to do different than this we tell them we know our way, which is to Jerusalem,” declared Mr Zahar.

Shortly before the recent conflict with Israel, there were clear signs many Palestinians were growing weary of radical policies after five years of strict Hamas rule in Gaza.

A poll carried out in early November for the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre revealed that 40 per cent of Palestinians in Gaza would vote for Fatah, with Hamas support at just 22.4 per cent. In the West Bank, support for Hamas was even lower at 16.6 per cent.

The same poll showed 65 per cent of Palestinians in favour of “peaceful negotiations” or “non-violent resistance” compared with just 28 per cent who wanted a return to “armed resistance” – the strategy favoured by Hamas.

The exact timing of Mr Meshaal’s arrival and his schedule were being kept secret for security reasons. He is expected to participate in a huge rally on Saturday in al-Kateeba Square in Gaza City after meeting Hamas leaders and visiting victims of recent Israeli attacks including the family of Ahmed al-Jabari, the Hamas military commander assassinated at the start of the conflict. He will be accompanied by his deputy, Moussa Abu Marzouk, who has visited Gaza briefly once before.

On Wednesday, carpenters were putting the finishing touches to the central stage in al-Kateeba Square that featured a traditional Arabesque fortress around a camouflage-painted model of a 12-metre-high M-75 rocket used by Hamas to bombard Israel in November bearing the legend “made in Gaza”. Convoys of vehicles carrying young men roared through the streets of Gaza City displaying Hamas flags and playing loud nationalist songs. The streets were decorated with hundreds of Hamas banners mixed with Palestinian flags, as if to emphasise the legitimacy of the Hamas government for the new state of Palestine.

Mohammed Samir, 44, a Hamas supporter, told The Independent he would be “very happy” to see Mr Meshaal in Gaza. “I love this man,” said Mr Samir. “He is a very good, very smart man. For him to reach Gaza proves that we have achieved total victory. It means Gaza is under our control. Until now, Egypt and Israel were preventing people from entering. Now anyone can come to Gaza.

“Psychologically, this will give a positive boost for the resistance and for the citizens who suffered so much in this last war,” he said.

Ayman Farid, 31, who described himself as an independent, said he was unmoved by the imminent arrival of Mr Meshaal. “It makes no difference. I don’t care,” he said.

A Salafi Islamist who gave his name as Abu Mahmoud hinted at the divisions that remain among the ultra-religious Palestinians.

“He’s a bad leader, he’s not even a good Muslim,” he said.

Khaled Meshaal: Leader in exile

Khaled Meshaal has helped build Hamas into strong force since he became leader in 1996. In exile since the 1967 Six-Day War, the 56-year-old was previously prevented from crossing into Gaza by the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has close ties to Hamas, now holds power in Egypt.

Meshaal – who had until recently been based in Syria, but has relocated to Qatar – has been a strong advocate of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, a view he is expected to encourage on his visit to Gaza this week.

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice