A senior Fatah leader on Wednesday returned to Gaza for the first time since the territory was seized by Hamas in 2007, saying he hopes to help end the rift between the bitter rivals.
Nabil Shaath, a Gaza native, was set to meet with senior Hamas officials, including Gaza strongman Mahmoud Zahar. As he crossed into Gaza from Israel, he handed his passport to Hamas border guards for registration in a powerful symbolic recognition of Hamas authority.
"This visit has come late," said Shaath, whose Gaza home was looted and burned down by Hamas forces during the takeover. "But this was the best opportunity. We cannot continue with these divisions."
Shaath plans to stay three days and said he had the blessing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
However, Abbas played down the move at a West Bank news conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. "It (Gaza) is our land and it is the right of any Palestinian to go there," Abbas said.