GAZA - The emir of pro-Western Qatar will become the first head of state to enter the blockaded Gaza Strip on Tuesday, in a high-profile visit breaking the isolation of the Iranian-backed Islamist movement Hamas that seized power in 2007.
Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani is officially visiting the Palestinian enclave to inaugurate reconstruction projects worth over $250 million, which an envoy of his oil-rich, conservative Arab emirate unveiled in Gaza last week.
But his trip will be loaded with political symbolism. The emir will be the first foreign leader to go to Gaza under the rule of Hamas, a militant movement that is outlawed by Israel and the West as a terrorist organization, but whose influence and aspirations in the Middle East conflict may be hard to ignore.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh issued a statement confirming the visit and urging "our people to express their good hospitality in welcoming the great visitor of Gaza".