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GAZA STRIP

Hamas chief’s visit sign of embrace in region

Mashaal could have sights on re-election

  • FILE - In this Friday Nov. 5, 2010, file photo, the leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal addresses the crowd during a rally at the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, Syria, Hamas’ exiled supreme leader visits the Gaza Strip for the first time this weekend on a landmark trip to the sliver of land ruled by his Islamic militant movement. The visit signals growing regional acceptance of the once isolated Hamas and even grudging acquiescence by Israel in the wake of an eight-day battle last month that ended with a cease-fire between the bitter enemies. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi, File)

    FILE - In this Friday Nov. 5, 2010, file photo, the leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal addresses the crowd during a rally at the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, Syria, Hamas’ exiled supreme leader visits the Gaza Strip for the first time this weekend on a landmark trip to the sliver of land ruled by his Islamic militant movement. The visit signals growing regional acceptance of the once isolated Hamas and even grudging acquiescence by Israel in the wake of an eight-day battle last month that ended with a cease-fire between the bitter enemies. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi, File)

  • FILE - In this Friday Nov. 5, 2010, file photo, the leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal addresses the crowd during a rally at the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, Syria, Hamas’ exiled supreme leader visits the Gaza Strip for the first time this weekend on a landmark trip to the sliver of land ruled by his Islamic militant movement. The visit signals growing regional acceptance of the once isolated Hamas and even grudging acquiescence by Israel in the wake of an eight-day battle last month that ended with a cease-fire between the bitter enemies. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi, File)

    FILE - In this Friday Nov. 5, 2010, file photo, the leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal addresses the crowd during a rally at the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, Syria, Hamas’ exiled supreme leader visits the Gaza Strip for the first time this weekend on a landmark trip to the sliver of land ruled by his Islamic militant movement. The visit signals growing regional acceptance of the once isolated Hamas and even grudging acquiescence by Israel in the wake of an eight-day battle last month that ended with a cease-fire between the bitter enemies. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi, File)

  • FILE- In this Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 file photo, the leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal prays during a press conference in Cairo, Egypt. Hamas’ exiled supreme leader visits the Gaza Strip for the first time this weekend on a landmark trip to the sliver of land ruled by his Islamic militant movement. The visit signals growing regional acceptance of the once isolated Hamas and even grudging acquiescence by Israel in the wake of an eight-day battle last month that ended with a cease-fire between the bitter enemies. (AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa, File)

    FILE- In this Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 file photo, the leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal prays during a press conference in Cairo, Egypt. Hamas’ exiled supreme leader visits the Gaza Strip for the first time this weekend on a landmark trip to the sliver of land ruled by his Islamic militant movement. The visit signals growing regional acceptance of the once isolated Hamas and even grudging acquiescence by Israel in the wake of an eight-day battle last month that ended with a cease-fire between the bitter enemies. (AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa, File)

  • FILE- In this Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 file photo, the leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal prays during a press conference in Cairo, Egypt. Hamas’ exiled supreme leader visits the Gaza Strip for the first time this weekend on a landmark trip to the sliver of land ruled by his Islamic militant movement. The visit signals growing regional acceptance of the once isolated Hamas and even grudging acquiescence by Israel in the wake of an eight-day battle last month that ended with a cease-fire between the bitter enemies. (AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa, File)

    FILE- In this Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 file photo, the leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal prays during a press conference in Cairo, Egypt. Hamas’ exiled supreme leader visits the Gaza Strip for the first time this weekend on a landmark trip to the sliver of land ruled by his Islamic militant movement. The visit signals growing regional acceptance of the once isolated Hamas and even grudging acquiescence by Israel in the wake of an eight-day battle last month that ended with a cease-fire between the bitter enemies. (AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa, File)

  • In this image released by the Egyptian Presidency, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, center, holds a meeting with officials in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. The Egyptian army deployed tanks and gave both supporters and opponents of Mohammed Morsi a deadline to leave the area outside the presidential palace Thursday following fierce street battles that left several people dead and hundreds injured in the worst outbreak of violence between the two sides since the Islamist leader’s election. (AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency)

    In this image released by the Egyptian Presidency, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, center, holds a meeting with officials in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. The Egyptian army deployed tanks and gave both supporters and opponents of Mohammed Morsi a deadline to leave the area outside the presidential palace Thursday following fierce street battles that left several people dead and hundreds injured in the worst outbreak of violence between the two sides since the Islamist leader’s election. (AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency)

  • In this image released by the Egyptian Presidency, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, center, holds a meeting with officials in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. The Egyptian army deployed tanks and gave both supporters and opponents of Mohammed Morsi a deadline to leave the area outside the presidential palace Thursday following fierce street battles that left several people dead and hundreds injured in the worst outbreak of violence between the two sides since the Islamist leader’s election. (AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency)

    In this image released by the Egyptian Presidency, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, center, holds a meeting with officials in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. The Egyptian army deployed tanks and gave both supporters and opponents of Mohammed Morsi a deadline to leave the area outside the presidential palace Thursday following fierce street battles that left several people dead and hundreds injured in the worst outbreak of violence between the two sides since the Islamist leader’s election. (AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency)

  • FILE - In this Friday Nov. 5, 2010, file photo, the leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal addresses the crowd during a rally at the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, Syria, Hamas’ exiled supreme leader visits the Gaza Strip for the first time this weekend on a landmark trip to the sliver of land ruled by his Islamic militant movement. The visit signals growing regional acceptance of the once isolated Hamas and even grudging acquiescence by Israel in the wake of an eight-day battle last month that ended with a cease-fire between the bitter enemies. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi, File)
  • FILE - In this Friday Nov. 5, 2010, file photo, the leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal addresses the crowd during a rally at the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, Syria, Hamas’ exiled supreme leader visits the Gaza Strip for the first time this weekend on a landmark trip to the sliver of land ruled by his Islamic militant movement. The visit signals growing regional acceptance of the once isolated Hamas and even grudging acquiescence by Israel in the wake of an eight-day battle last month that ended with a cease-fire between the bitter enemies. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi, File)
  • FILE- In this Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 file photo, the leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal prays during a press conference in Cairo, Egypt. Hamas’ exiled supreme leader visits the Gaza Strip for the first time this weekend on a landmark trip to the sliver of land ruled by his Islamic militant movement. The visit signals growing regional acceptance of the once isolated Hamas and even grudging acquiescence by Israel in the wake of an eight-day battle last month that ended with a cease-fire between the bitter enemies. (AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa, File)
  • FILE- In this Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 file photo, the leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal prays during a press conference in Cairo, Egypt. Hamas’ exiled supreme leader visits the Gaza Strip for the first time this weekend on a landmark trip to the sliver of land ruled by his Islamic militant movement. The visit signals growing regional acceptance of the once isolated Hamas and even grudging acquiescence by Israel in the wake of an eight-day battle last month that ended with a cease-fire between the bitter enemies. (AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa, File)
  • In this image released by the Egyptian Presidency, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, center, holds a meeting with officials in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. The Egyptian army deployed tanks and gave both supporters and opponents of Mohammed Morsi a deadline to leave the area outside the presidential palace Thursday following fierce street battles that left several people dead and hundreds injured in the worst outbreak of violence between the two sides since the Islamist leader’s election. (AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency)
  • In this image released by the Egyptian Presidency, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, center, holds a meeting with officials in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. The Egyptian army deployed tanks and gave both supporters and opponents of Mohammed Morsi a deadline to leave the area outside the presidential palace Thursday following fierce street battles that left several people dead and hundreds injured in the worst outbreak of violence between the two sides since the Islamist leader’s election. (AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency)

The supreme Hamas leader’s first-ever visit to the Gaza Strip this weekend signals growing regional acceptance of the Islamic militant movement in charge of the once isolated territory and grudging acquiescence by Israel.

Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, who has positioned himself as a pragmatist and enjoys the backing of regional heavyweights Egypt, Turkey and Qatar, could also use the trip to lobby for re-election.

Mashaal is to arrive today for a three-day tour, with Hamas’s 25th anniversary rally tomorrow set as the centerpiece.

He’ll visit the homes of two Hamas icons assassinated by Israel, military chief Ahmed Jabari and spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

His landmark visit comes two weeks after the bloodiest round of Israel-Gaza fighting in four years, which included the killing of Jabari as well as hundreds of Israeli airstrikes on Hamas targets and an equal number of Gaza rockets fired into Israel.

Hamas has portrayed itself as the victor because Israel agreed to an Egyptian-brokered truce after eight days, instead of sending ground troops, as it initially threatened.

Yesterday, workers set up the stage for the anniversary rally, including a 43-foot-high replica of an M-75, a missile Hamas has fired deep into Israel.

“Made in Gaza,” was written on the rocket.

Mashaal, whose family left the West Bank when he was a child, grew up in Kuwait and moved to Qatar this year after abandoning his longtime base in Syria.

His visit coincides with the last stretch of secret internal Hamas elections that began seven months ago.

Mashaal, who has headed Hamas’s decision-making political bureau since 1996, said earlier this year he is not seeking re-election, but some suggested his Gaza visit could signal a change of heart and an attempt to mollify Gaza Hamas hardliners with whom he clashed months ago.

Palestinian analyst Hani al-Masri said he believes the main purpose of the trip is an attempt supported by Egypt, Turkey and Qatar to get Mashaal re-elected.

“Egypt, Qatar and Turkey want Khaled Mashaal, simply because he is a moderate and can get things done between the West and the Islamists,” said al-Masri.

Israel, meanwhile, appears to be looking the other way.

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