Ismail Haniyeh talks to his supporters during a Hamas rally in Gaza City.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas Politburo Deputy Chairman Ismail Haniyeh returned to the Gaza Strip on Friday after spending most of the past five months in the Gulf state of Qatar.
Haniyeh and another senior Hamas official, Rouhi Mushtaha, passed through the Rafah crossing, which Egyptian authorities opened in an exceptional circumstance to allow for the two men’s passage.
A motorcade escorted Haniyeh to his home in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, where he held an impromptu press conference.
Haniyeh, who on his way back to the Strip visited Cairo for the first time since 2013 to meet with Egyptian officials, said that he is hopeful about the future of Egyptian-Hamas relations.
“We are standing in front of a promising period in relations between the Palestinian people and Egypt,” he said. “We hope to see its results in the coming period.”
Cairo and Hamas have experienced a tense relationship since the ouster of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Egypt has viewed Hamas as an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood, which it considers an existential threat, while Hamas has criticized Egypt’s treatment of the Gaza Strip.
Hazim Qassim, a Hamas spokesman, said in a press release on Thursday that Haniyeh discussed a number of issues with senior Egyptian intelligence officials including that of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, the ongoing Israeli blockade, and the security situation on the Egyptian- Gazan border.
Qassim made no mention of the Rafah border crossing to Sinai, which Hamas has called on Egypt to reopen to facilitate the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza.
However, Rafah opened on Saturday, and was due operate through Monday.
Haniyeh’s long stay in Qatar has prompted rumors that he is the favorite to succeed Hamas Politburo Chairman Khaled Mashaal.
Nonetheless, some analysts say that Haniyeh’s return to Gaza indicates that he will not run for the top post in Hamas.
“Haniyeh returning to Gaza means either that he is making way for Musa Abu Marzouk to become the chairman of the Hamas Politburo or that Khaled Mashaal’s term has been extended,” Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of the political science at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, said last month.
Hamas’s secretive internal leadership elections are expected to be completed in the coming months, in which a new politburo will be elected.
According to a Palestinian source in Gaza who spoke to The Jerusalem Post
, Haniyeh had hoped to return to Gaza in December. But Egyptian officials told Haniyeh that they would only be able to secure his safe passage to Gaza after the Christian holidays, which concluded on January 17.