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Hamas 'opens new page' with Egypt visit

Haniyeh left in September to perform the Muslim hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia [AFP]

Date of publication: 28 January, 2017

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Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has returned to Gaza after 'fruitful' meetings with Egyptian officials, hinting at a detente between the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood movement and Islamist-hostile Cairo regime.

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh returned to Gaza on Friday after concluding a "successful" visit to Cairo, praising improving ties with neighbouring Egypt, Egypt's state-run news agency reported.

Haniyeh, Gaza head of the Islamist movement, left in September to perform the Muslim hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, returning via Gulf countries and Egypt, where he sought to mend frayed relations.

"The movement's delegation completed a successful visit to Egypt," a Hamas statement read.  

A series of "fruitful" meetings with Egyptian officials - including head of general intelligence Khaled Fawzy - was conducted between the two parties, the statement added.

Upon his return home in the Shaati refugee camp, west of Gaza city, Haniyeh told journalists the relationship with Egypt was improving.

"[Hamas] will continue to develop this relationship and strengthen it," he said.

The two sides discussed Israel's blockade of Gaza, Palestinian reconciliation and the lingering power outage in the strip.

State media gave no further details on future arrangements, but Haniyeh posted on his Twitter account after arriving in Gaza saying that the relations with Egypt will witness "paradigm shifts".

Egyptian sources told The New Arab that the visit "opened a new page" in the Egypt-Hamas relations, which was evident in excluding from the meetings Egyptian intelligence General Wael al-Safty. He had previously insulted Hamas in a leaked recording aired by Turkey-based TV channel Mekamelin.

The sources added that during the latest meetings, both sides agreed to allow a high-level Hamas security delegation to visit Egypt in the coming period to discuss several issues, including Egypt's list of wanted militants, as well as securing the borders between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula.

It was Haniyeh's first trip outside Gaza since the isolation and eventual overthrow of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's Islamist president and Hamas ally, in 2013.

Relations between Egypt and Hamas soured following Morsi's overthrow and the subsequent election of former Defence Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

Egypt's army largely closed the border with Gaza after Sisi's rise to power, destroying dozens of illegal trade tunnels that brought in a key part the Gazan economy.

Cairo has accused Hamas of supporting Morsi's now-banned Muslim Brotherhood movement and even of involvement in the 2015 assassination of Attorney General Hisham Barakat.

However, relations between the Islamist Palestinian faction and Sisi's government have improved in the past year and the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt is due to open on Saturday for four days.

In recent months, Cairo has increased the number of people allowed to exit through the Rafah border crossing, Gaza's main gateway to the outside world. It has also begun to allow Gaza to import commercial goods through Rafah for the first time since 2013.

Hamas has run Gaza since 2007 after a near civil war with rival Palestinian faction Fatah.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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