RAFAH, Gaza Strip — The long exiled leader of the militant group Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, entered Gaza for the first time Friday, a symbolically powerful visit that sought to reinforce Hamas’ contention that it was victorious in its eight-day violent clash with Israel.
For Mashaal, 56, whom the Israelis tried to assassinate in Jordan in 1997, it was a triumphant day as Hamas fighters, armed with rifles and wearing balaclavas, lined the streets where he was to travel. He entered from Egypt, through the Rafah crossing, an indication of a new alliance with Cairo after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, an avowed adversary of Hamas.
“Gaza, with its martyrs, cannot be described in words," he said as he arrived here, with tears in his eyes. “There are no words to describe Gaza, to describe the heroes, the martyrs, the blood, the mothers who lost their sons."
Mashaal, who has spent years in exile and now spends most of his time in Qatar, had never before been to Gaza but he said he felt as if he was returning because “Gaza has always been in my heart."