Hamas's exiled political leader, Khaled Meshaal, is set to make a historic visit to the Gaza strip on Friday to attend a "victory rally" marking the 25th anniversary of the Palestinian Islamist movement.
Hamas’s exiled leader will step onto Palestinian land for the first time in 45 years on Friday for a "victory rally" in the Gaza Strip, displaying his newfound confidence after last month’s conflict with Israel.
The Islamist group’s leader, Khaled Meshaal, 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 truce he negotiated under Egypt’s auspices.
The historic visit comes amid a power struggle within the Palestinian Islamist movement, pitting Khaled Meshaal against Gaza’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh.
“Under the surface however, Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of the Islamist party ruling in Gaza, will probably be seeking to reestablish his leadership. People have a tendency to forget that he is the party’s number one man, whereas his Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh gets the limelight a lot more than he does”, said FRANCE 24 correspondent Gallagher Fenwick.
Mashaal, who has headed Hamas’ decision-making political bureau since 1996, said earlier this year he is not seeking re-election, but some suggested his Gaza visit could signal a change of heart and an attempt to mollify Gaza Hamas hardliners with whom he clashed months ago.
Palestinian analyst Hani al-Masri said he believes the main purpose of the trip is an attempt supported by Egypt, Turkey and Qatar to get Mashaal re-elected. “Egypt, Qatar and Turkey want Khaled Mashaal, simply because he is a moderate and can get things done between the West and the Islamists,” said al-Masri.
Reconciliation on the cards?
Saturday’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.
“He will be talking about reconciliation, and try to patch things up within Hamas who are favourable to reconciliation – and those who think he’s too lenient vis-à-vis his secular rival in the West bank, Mahmoud Abbas”, said FRANCE 24’s Gallagher Fenwick.
Khaled Meshaal survived an Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997. Hamas denied seeking guarantees that he would not be targeted in Gaza and senior official Salah Al-Bardaweel said the group’s security forces would protect him.
“It’s truly going to put the ceasefire agreement to the test, which specifically mentions that Israel stops targeted assassinations in Gaza. Remember that Khaled Meshaal is the number one man of a party, Hamas, whose charter specifically calls for the destruction of Israel, so he’s probably pretty high on Israel’s hit-list”, reported Gallagher Fenwick.
Despite the Islamist movement’s 1988’s charter, Meshaal has sought to temper the discourse in recent years, backing the idea of a long-term truce in return for a withdrawal to the lines established ahead of the 1967 war, when Israel seized East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.