Mashaal in Gaza: Tomorrow Ramallah, then Yerushalayim


hamas-chief-khaled-mashaalHamas chief Khalid Mashaal made his first visit to the Gaza Strip on Friday, telling crowds he hoped his next visit would be to Jerusalem, Ramallah and a liberated Palestine.

After passing through the Egyptian border crossing, Mashaal knelt on the ground to offer a prayer of thanks and was then greeted by dozens of officials from an array of competing factions lined up to meet him in warm December sun.

Mashaal praised the people of Gaza and the political factions in his first ever speech on Palestinian soil. “We politicians are in debt to the people of Gaza,” he said.

He was briefly tearful as he was welcomed by Gaza’s Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

Mashaal said his visit to Gaza was his “third birth” referring to an assassination attempt by Israeli Mossad agents in 1997 as his previous “re-birth.”

“I pray to God that my fourth birth will come the day we liberate Palestine,” he said, clearly moved by his reception, with uniformed police breaking ranks to try and kiss his hand.

“Today is Gaza. Tomorrow will be Ramallah and after that Jerusalem then Haifa and Jaffa,” he said.

Haniyeh welcomed Mashaal’s arrival as a historic moment in Palestinian history.

Hamas denied seeking guarantees via Egyptian contacts with Israel that Mashaal would not be targeted for assassination in Gaza. There was massive security for his arrival, with gun-toting, black-masked guards from the Hamas military wing patrolling the streets in open-topped trucks and motorbikes.

“This is the most beautiful day in my life,” said 27-year-old policeman, Mohammed Abed. “I kissed him on the head.”

Mashaal, 56, had been widely understood not to have set foot in Palestine since he left his native West Bank with his family aged 11. However in his speech he indicated he had returned for a visit as a teenager in 1975.

The Hamas chief visited the home of the late founder and spiritual leader of the party, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was assassinated by Israel in 2004.

“Sheikh Ahmad Yassin linked reconciliation and resistance. As Hamas leaders, and From Ahmad Yassin’s house, we promise to implement national reconciliation and end the division,” he said.

Mashaal visited the homes of Hamas military commander Ahmad al-Jaabari and his bodyguard Mohammad al-Hams, who Israel assassinated on Nov. 14 at the start of its eight day war on Gaza.

{Maan News/ Newscenter}