The leader of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, plans to visit the beseiged Palestinian territory for the first time next week.
Khaled Meshaal will arrive in the Gaza from Egypt to mark Hamas’ 25th anniversary and congratulate its leaders and fighters for battling Israel during the recent eight-day offensive, a senior Hamas official said on Saturday.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.
“I am thrilled and proud that I will be returning to Gaza,” Meshaal said.
Meshaal, who has been in exile since the 1967 Six Day war, previously had been prevented from crossing into Gaza by longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.
But Mubarak was ousted in February last year, and the Muslim Brotherhood, which has close ties to Hamas, has risen to power.
He has led Hamas since 1996, helping to build the movement into a potent force. Israel, the US and the European Union have branded the group as a terrorist organisation.
The Hamas leader survived an Israeli assassination attack in Jordan in 1997. Until recently, Meshaal was based in Syria but after the uprising in the country broke out there he relocated to Qatar.
The announcement of Meshaal’s visit to Gaza comes after the UN voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to accept Palestine as a non-member observer state.
Hamas has refused to recognise state of Israel.