Symbol of defiance, Hamas leader visits Gaza

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EXILED Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal wept yesterday as he made his first visit to the Gaza Strip.

Mr Meshaal’s appearance in the coastal territory ceded by Israel to the Palestinians was being seen by analysts as an indicator of increasing western tolerance of Hamas’ continuing defiance of Israel.

The Hamas leader left the West Bank as a child and today leads the Islamist militant movement from the Gulf state of Qatar. He entered Gaza from Egypt yesterday and was met by Hamas officials and representatives of the rival Palestinian group, Fatah, eager to present a united front.

That the visit took place at all reflects the changing balance of power among factions and nations in the Middle East.

Hamas has been boosted by the rise of its parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt. Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was hostile to Hamas and co-operated with Israel on a blockade of Gaza after Hamas took power there in 2007. In contrast Egypt under president Mohammed Morsi brokered a truce after Israel and Hamas bombarded each other’s territory for eight days last month.

“I have been dreaming of this historic moment my entire life, to come to Gaza,” Mr Mashaal told reporters as he stood alongside senior Hamas member Mousa Abu Marzouk and Hamas premier Ismail Haniyeh. “I ask God to give me martyrdom one day on this land.”