Share This Page

Long-exiled Hamas chief triumphantly returns to Gaza

| Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, 7:02 p.m.
Exiled Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal upon his arrival at Rafah crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. The exiled Hamas chief broke into tears Friday as he arrived in the Gaza Strip for his first-ever visit, a landmark trip reflecting his militant group's growing international acceptance and its defiance of Israel. Khaled Mashaal, who left the West Bank as a child and leads the Islamic militant movement from Qatar, crossed the Egyptian border, kissed the ground, and was greeted by a crowd of Hamas officials and representatives of Hamas' rival Fatah party. He was also welcomed by a group of Palestinian orphans — children of Gaza militants killed by Israel in recent years — wearing military-style uniforms. (AP Photo/Suhaib Salem , Pool)

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — The image of Hamas' long-exiled chief triumphantly walking around the Gaza Strip, flashing victory signs beside Islamic militant leaders on Friday, illustrates how the group's defiance of Israel is forcing a change in Palestinian politics.

Buoyed by the rise of fellow Islamists in Egypt, Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal and his allies are confronting Israel with the specter of a change in the balance of power between the two rival Palestinian factions — Hamas and the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah.

Mashaal, 56, who left the West Bank as a child and leads Hamas from Qatar, broke into tears as he arrived in the Gaza Strip for his first-ever visit.

Thousands of supporters lined the streets as Mashaal and Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh drove by, waving and flashing victory signs.

Mashaal's visit would have been unthinkable even a few weeks ago. He would have been an easy target for Israel. Fifteen years ago, Mashaal was nearly assassinated in Jordan by Israeli agents who squirted a deadly poison in his ear, narrowly escaping after the United States forced Benjamin Netanyahu, then serving his first term as Israel's prime minister, to provide the antidote.

But a Nov. 21 cease-fire agreement, negotiated by Egypt, has forced Israel to leave Hamas leaders alone and negotiate, albeit indirectly, with the Islamic militant group sworn to its destruction.

It appears unlikely that Hamas would ever agree to sit for peace talks with Israel. America and the EU have joined Israel in listing Hamas as a terror organization.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.