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(photo credit: AP [file])
Only days after the Rafah border crossing was reopened, another senior Hamas operative who previously lived abroad crossed back into the Gaza Strip.
Fadel Zahar is the first high-ranking Hamas official known to return to the Gaza Strip since the border crossing was reopened last Friday. His brother, Mahmoud Zahar, is the top leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Fadel Zahar was deported from the Gaza Strip in 1991 along with three other top Hamas operatives: Imad Alami, Mustafa Kanu, and Mustafa Liddawi. Since then Zahar has been living in Sudan and Syria, where other Hamas leaders are located.
Meanwhile, Hamas on Tuesday won elections for the student council at An-Najah University. The victory is seen as a major blow to the ruling Fatah party, whose members won 34 seats as opposed to 40 for Hamas-affiliated students. The student council consists of 81 seats.
Sources at the university said that more than 84 percent of the 13,000 students participated in the vote.
As soon as the results were announced, hundreds of Hamas activists and supporters took to the streets of Nablus, Tulkarm and Jenin to celebrate the victory.
Many Hamas members who have been living in different Arab countries have returned to the Gaza Strip since Israel relinquished control over the Rafah terminal. Last week, shortly before Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas inaugurated the border crossing, another Hamas activist crossed the border into the Gaza Strip.
Rafik al-Hasanat, a senior member of Hamas who has been wanted by Israel for more than a decade, arrived through the Rafah crossing after it was opened briefly to allow stranded Palestinian passengers on the Egyptian side to return home.
Hasanat belonged to Izzaddin al-Kassam, the armed wing of Hamas; he fled to Egypt in 1993 after he learned that the IDF was searching for him because of his involvement in terror attacks. Since then he has been hiding in Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Jordan.
Hundreds of Hamas activists, chanting slogans in support of the Islamic movement, welcomed Hasanat as he arrived home.
Sources close to Hamas said many of its activists, including top leaders, have managed to return to the Gaza Strip since the Israeli pullout. Last month one of the founders of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed al-Milh, returned to the Gaza Strip after spending 20 years in different Arab countries.
Shortly after the Israeli withdrawal, three top Hamas fugitives infiltrated into the Gaza Strip. One of them, Nihro Masoud of the Jabalya refugee camp, was one of the founders of Izzaddin al-Kassam. He fled to Egypt 14 years ago and spent most of his time in Sudan.