Khaled Meshaal and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyyeh Gaza, Palestine December 7, 2012 (photographer unknown via Haniyyeh’s twitter feed)
[T]he Nov. 21 cease-fire agreement that ended an eight-day clash with Israel emboldened Meshaal to make a victory lap through the seaside territory…..
“I say I’m returning to Gaza even though I have never been before because it’s always been in my heart,” he told the crowd, fighting back tears.
The visit underscores Hamas’ rising political clout in a Middle East reshaped by the “Arab Spring.”
On Friday, he was greeted like a king. Flag-draped streets were lined by masked, armed Izzidin al-Qassam Brigade fighters.
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.
The leader 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.
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyyeh’s tweet of Meshaal’s: “moment arriving in the land of Palestine“
Local Fatah leaders are due to attend – the first time the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas’s faction has taken part in such an event since at least 2007, when it fought a brief civil war with Hamas in Gaza that Hamas won.
“Meshaal’s speech will outline the priorities of the Hamas movement in the coming future, and especially the implementation of reconciliation [with Fatah],” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.
Clearly aware of the yearning among ordinary Palestinians for an end to the divisions that have weakened their cause on the world stage, Meshaal repeatedly returned to the subject during his many stops around Gaza on Friday.
“With God’s will … reconciliation will be achieved. National unity is at hand,” Meshaal shouted through a microphone at the ruins of one house destroyed last month by an Israeli air raid that killed 12 civilians, including four children.