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Terrorism & Security

With Hamas's confidence waxing, Khaled Meshaal arrives in Gaza

The Hamas leader's return to Palestinian territory, his first visit since 1967, coincides with the party's increased sway after an eight-day conflict with Israel and UN recognition of Palestine.

By Staff writer / December 7, 2012

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal (l.) waves as he stands next to senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh upon Meshaal's arrival in the Gaza Strip today. Mr. Meshaal's arrival ended 45 years of exile from Palestinian land and underscored the Islamist group's growing confidence following its recent conflict with Israel.

Suhaib Salem/Reuters

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Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.

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Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is walking on Palestinian territory for the first time in 45 years. He's in town to celebrate his party’s 25th anniversary and the end of a week-long conflagration with Israel last month.

But his visit could also signal growing confidence within the Islamist party – which Israel, the United States, and the European Union consider a terrorist organization – over its position in the tumultuous Middle East.

Mr. Meshaal, who left the West Bank as a boy in 1967 and had not visited Gaza before today, has led Hamas for over 15 years, primarily from the party's offices in Damascus, Syria.  But he was in Egypt late last month for negotiations of the cease-fire that ended the eight-day conflict with Israel. Some 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed in the violence, the Telegraph reports, the worst fighting in four years.  The New York Times reports that Hamas' negotiation of “a cease-fire with Israel through the agency of the Egyptians … may represent an important step toward becoming a more recognized international player and representative of at least a portion of the Palestinian people.”

Meshaal has since spoken of the possibility of reaching out to other political factions within the Palestinian territory, including the Fatah party, which was pushed out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007. Al Jazeera reports Hamas invited Fatah officials to a celebration rally in Gaza tomorrow, part of Meshaal’s whirlwind trip.

"There is a new mood that allows us to achieve reconciliation," Meshaal told Al Jazeera.

According to the Times, “The Fatah movement controls the West Bank, which Israel still occupies, and the rivalry between the two groups is the defining principle of Palestinian politics, despite continuing efforts by Egypt to bring about a reconciliation.”

The most recent violence between Israel and Palestine started on Nov. 14 with an exchange of rockets and airstrikes. Since then, the Palestinian Authority gained United Nation’s recognition as a non-member observer state (something that Meshaal thanked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for, reports the BBC), and Israel announced the expansion of settlement construction on the West Bank.

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