Amr Moussa 311 ap.
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Arab League chief Amr Moussa began a tour of Gaza on Sunday morning in a push to lift a 3-year-old blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory.
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Sunday's visit is the first by a senior Arab official since the Islamist Hamas terrorist organization seized control of Strip in 2007. Moussa was set to meet with Gaza's top Hamas official - a boost for the widely shunned movement.
Moussa's trip signaled a shift in policy following Israel's deadly raid of a blockade-busting flotilla two weeks ago; many Arab countries have held Hamas at arm's length in recent years, and Egypt has been Israel's partner in keeping the territory sealed.
However, widespread outrage in the Arab and Muslim world over the raid
prompted Arab leaders to join the growing international demands for
opening Gaza's borders.
On Sunday, Moussa entered Gaza through the Rafah terminal. 'The world is standing with the people of Palestine'
"The siege must be lifted," he told reporters. "All the world is now standing with the people of Palestine and the people of Gaza."
Moussa was scheduled to tour facilities of the main UN aid agency and Gaza's largest hospital, and also meet with relatives of Gazans killed in Israel's three-week war on Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009.
The Arab League chief also planned to discuss stalled attempts to end
the political rift between Hamas and Western-backed Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas.
Moussa coordinated the trip with Abbas, presumably to take some of the
sting out of his diplomatic nod to Hamas. On arriving in Gaza on Sunday,
he also emphasized the need for a Palestinian unity deal. Any
power-sharing agreement would give Abbas a foothold in Gaza.
"Reconciliation is a key issue," said Moussa, who was to meet in Gaza
with leaders of various political factions, including Hamas and Fatah.
"We hope this beginning will end with reconciliation."
Hamas Cabinet minister Bassem Naim, who greeted Moussa at the terminal,
also hinted at Hamas' political gains from the visit. "The acrimony
between Gaza and the Arab nation ended today and forever," he said.