Hamas leader visits Egypt

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh travels to Egypt as Hamas seeks to improve relations with Cairo.

Ben Ariel ,

Ismail Haniyeh
Ismail Haniyeh

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh travelled on Saturday to Egypt for his first visit there since his election, the group said, according to AFP.

Hamas has controlled Gaza since taking it over from rival Fatah in a bloody coup in 2007, and has been seeking to improve relations with neighboring Egypt in a bid to convince Cairo to open the Rafah crossing with Gaza.

Egyptian authorities have kept the Rafah crossing virtually sealed since a terrorist attack in the Sinai Peninsula in October 2014, though they have temporarily reopened the crossing several times since that attack, mostly for the passage of humanitarian cases or the passage of pilgrims.

Relations between Hamas and Egypt have been tense since the Hamas-allied Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi was ousted in 2013 and eventually replaced by former military leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Egypt blames Hamas terrorists for providing the weapons for the lethal 2014 Sinai attack, which killed 30 soldiers, through one of its smuggling tunnels under the border. Hamas denies the allegations.

However, 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 issued on Saturday said the delegation would discuss "mechanisms to ease the siege on Gaza and other issues of mutual concern", including reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, which is headed by Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

It is Haniyeh’s first visit since he was elected in May, although senior Hamas officials have held high-level talks in Egypt since.