Hamas chief Khalid Mashaal made his first visit to the Gaza Strip on Friday, telling crowds he hoped his next visit would be to Jerusalem, Ramallah and a liberated Palestine.
After passing through the Egyptian border crossing, Mashaal knelt on the ground to offer a prayer of thanks and was then greeted by dozens of officials from an array of competing factions lined up to meet him in warm December sun.
Mashaal praised the people of Gaza and the political factions in his first ever speech on Palestinian soil. “We politicians are in debt to the people of Gaza,” he said.
The leader was briefly tearful as he was welcomed by Gaza’s Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
Mashaal said his visit to Gaza was his “third birth” referring to an assassination attempt by Israeli Mossad agents in 1997 as his previous “re-birth.”
“I pray to God that my fourth birth will come the day we liberate Palestine,” he said, clearly moved by his reception, with uniformed police breaking ranks to try and kiss his hand.
“Today is Gaza. Tomorrow will be Ramallah and after that Jerusalem then Haifa and Jaffa,” he said.
Who’s up who’s down? At the end of a full week of fighting, both Israel and Hamas appear eager for a cease-fire, a clear indication that both belligerents are actually quite satisfied with the political accomplishments they have made in the fighting and that neither sees much to gain from continuing. For now. If all goes according to plan, Israel will get a respite from the incessant rocket fire on its southern towns and villages, and Hamas will get further de facto recognition of its regime in Gaza and an opening to the world via Egyptian border. Here’s an interim assessment for all relevant actors in the region.
Saudi Arabia, reliable American ally, anchor of the moderate Arab regimes, has been completely absent from the scene from the outbreak of hostilities right until the cease-fire. The 88-year-old king, who was out of commission due to back surgery this week, has outlived a succession of crown princes. Back pain kept the Saudi foreign minister away from the parade of Arab foreign ministers that descended upon Cairo this week to show solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza. A mute gerontocracy, flatfooted by the dramatic shifts in the region since 9/11 and seemingly confused or indifferent to the Arab Spring, the Saudis have become the Arab Mr. Jones of Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man.” They weren’t just missing this week. Worse than that: no one noticed.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry’s website still boasts of the “Policy of Zero Problems with our Neighbors,” though there is nary a neighbor that Turkey has not alienated in the last four years. Its attention-starved Prime Minister Erdogan can’t seem to get along with Iran or keep a quiet frontier with Iraq or Syria. He was rebuffed this week by the Americans and all but ignored by the Egyptians while he was in Egypt. Israel has made no step that would allow Turkey to even appear to be playing a positive role as mediator.
The United States stood by Israel this entire week and has been keen to take credit for the success of Israel’s military campaign, Operation Iron Dome, which it partly funded. It blocked one-sided moves at the UN Security Council and waited until the deal was nearly sealed to send its secretary of state to the region. The Obama administration emerges from this crisis with a burgeoning line of credit from the Israeli government as well as with Israeli public opinion that was already recoiling from a post-election hangover after being promised by vocal American right-wingers that Obama was its enemy. As Haaretz’s Barak Ravid tweeted, “If funding iron dome is Obama’s way of throwing Israel under the bus, I am praying he will throw us under a train.” More importantly, this crisis has provided the first real opening between the administration in Washington and the new administration in Cairo.
Al Qaeda’s leadership has sent experienced jihadists to Libya in an effort to build a fighting force there, according to a Libyan source briefed by Western counter-terrorism officials.
The jihadists include one veteran fighter who had been detained in Britain on suspicion of terrorism. The source describes him as committed to al Qaeda’s global cause and to attacking U.S. interests.
The source told CNN that the al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, personally dispatched the former British detainee to Libya earlier this year as the Gadhafi regime lost control of large swathes of the country.
The man arrived in Libya in May and has since begun recruiting fighters in the eastern region of the country, near the Egyptian border. He now has some 200 fighters mobilized, the source added. Western intelligence agencies are aware of his activities, according to the source.