Skip to main content

Jubilant crowds welcome Hamas leader to Gaza

By the CNN Wire Staff
December 8, 2012 -- Updated 0756 GMT (1556 HKT)
Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal and Hamas PM in Gaza Ismail Haniya wave to supporters in Gaza City, December 7, 2012.
Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal and Hamas PM in Gaza Ismail Haniya wave to supporters in Gaza City, December 7, 2012.
  • NEW: Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal receives a hero's welcome in Gaza
  • NEW: "We owe the heroes and martyrs," Meshaal says
  • He is in Gaza to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas
  • The visit comes two weeks after the end of a bloody conflict with Israel

Gaza City (CNN) -- Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal arrived in Gaza Friday to a hero's welcome, two weeks after a bloody fight with Israel that left the group energized and emboldened.

He dropped down and kissed the ground after crossing into Gaza from Egypt at the Rafah border crossing.

"We politicians, we owe the people of Gaza, and the entire factions of the resistance, we owe the heroes and martyrs," Meshaal said. "if it wasn't for you we would have not visited Gaza."

A jubilant crowd lined the road leading from the border crossing into Gaza City. Among the throng were hundreds of jubilant Hamas fighters, wearing fatigues and balaclavas, hoisting AK-47s and RPG launchers, and cheering Meshaal's first visit to the Palestinian territory.

Iran continuing to arm Hamas?
Hamas's political chief on cease-fire

Opinion: With cease-fire, Hamas' isolation has ended

The first appointments on his schedule included visits to the homes of former Hamas leaders and Gaza residents killed in recent years by Israeli's strikes.

Among the stops were the home of the Hamas military leader whose targeted killing by Israel in November opened the recent eight-day conflict, as well as the home where 10 members of one family died in an Israeli airstrike. Saturday, he will participate in a rally celebrating the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas.

Meshaal, who has led Hamas from exile since 2004, is making his first visit to Gaza and his first to the Palestinian territories in 45 years. He left the Palestinian West Bank in 1967 at the age of 11 after Israel moved into the territory during the Six-Day War. Israel, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attempted to assassinate him in 1997.

"I say this my third birth," Meshaal told supporters, saying the first was his natural birth in 1956, while the second followed the attempted assassination.

"And this moment today, December 7, 2012, this I consider it to be my third birth, Meshaal said. "And I ask God for our fourth birth with the entire liberation of Palestine."

Read more: What is Hamas?

The goal of Hamas is an Islamic fundamentalist Palestinian state. Its manifesto advocates the destruction of the state of Israel, and calls for the raising of "the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine."

Hamas members, like most Palestinian factions and political parties, insist that Israel is an occupying power, and that the group is simply trying to liberate the Palestinian territories.

Israel, the United States and other Western countries label Hamas a terrorist organization. The United States has also listed Meshaal as a terrorist since 2003.

Hamas leader tells Amanpour his group wasn't behind bombing

Meshaal has previously said the group would support a Palestinian state based on the borders that existed prior to the 1967 Six-Day War, during which Israeli troops occupied Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. The state would have East Jerusalem as its capital, he said.

However, he has stopped short of backing a full two-state solution, including acceptance of Israel's right to exist.

He has long advocated a role for the threat of violence in forcing peace with Israel.

"You are successful in negotiation and in imposing your conditions on the enemy depending on the number of power cards you have on the ground," the Congressional Research Service quoted Meshaal as saying, citing a Jordanian newspaper.

That perspective will be in full view in Saturday's rally.

Meshaal will speak to the assembled throng from a platform beneath a replica of the Qassam rockets fired at Israel during the recent conflict, in which 160 Palestinians and six Israelis died.

The inscription on the rocket? "Made in Gaza."

Read more: Palestinian UN bid explained

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen, Kareem Khadder and Michael Pearson contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.