(AFP) GAZA: Ismail Haniya, head of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, travelled on Saturday to Egypt for his first visit there since his election, the group said.
Hamas controls the small Palestinian Gaza Strip enclave and has been seeking to improve relations with neighbouring Egypt in a bid to convince Cairo to open the territory’s border with Gaza – its only crossing except with Israel.
Relations have been tense since the Hamas-allied Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi was overthrown in 2013 and eventually replaced by former military leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who accused Hamas of supporting terrorism in Egypt.
But agreements made this summer suggested a detente between the two sides, with Hamas officials saying Egypt agreed to open the Rafah crossing in the coming months.
A Hamas statement said the delegation would discuss “mechanisms to ease the siege on Gaza and other issues of mutual concern”, including reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah – the internationally recognised Palestinian government based in the West Bank.
It is Haniya’s first visit since he was elected in May, although senior Hamas officials have held high-level talks in Egypt since.
Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, and the Jewish state closely follows the Palestinian movement’s ties with Egypt, one of only two Arab states with which it has signed a peace treaty.