Khaled Mashaal
Khaled Mashaal AFP photo

Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal is to make his first-ever visit to Gaza at the end of next week, accompanied by top officials, a senior Hamas source said on Wednesday.

"Mashaal will arrive in the Gaza Strip accompanied by a number of members of the Hamas politburo-in-exile a day before the Hamas anniversary, to participate in the celebrations," the source said, according to AFP.

The source was referring to the start of festivities on December 8 to mark the Hamas terrorist group’s 25th birthday.

News of the visit was confirmed to AFP by two other sources, each of whom spoke on condition of anonymity.

Should the trip go ahead, it would be a historic first for Mashaal, who had been due to visit Gaza at the start of this year but the trip never happened.

The visit would come just two weeks after Hamas and Israel agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire deal which ended Operation Pillar of Defense, an IDF operation which targeted Hamas’s terror infrastructure in Gaza.

Founded in 1987, Hamas was inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. Its charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

In 2006, Hamas won a landslide victory in PA elections, routing the long-dominant Fatah party of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The organization took over Gaza in a bloody coup in June of 2007.

The two factions signed a reconciliation deal in late April 2011 in Cairo, pledging to set aside years of bitter enmity, form a consensus interim government and work towards presidential and legislative elections within a year.

Implementation of the deal has stalled, however, with the two sides failing to agree on the make-up of the interim government and the promised elections never taking place.

Leaders of the two factions said last week they have decided to end infighting in a show of solidarity of Arabs in Judea and Samaria in the wake of Operation Pillar of Defense.

The Palestinian Authority announced this week it would release Hamas-affiliated detainees as a goodwill gesture to boost reconciliation efforts, after Hamas announced similar measures earlier.

Mashaal’s trip will also come directly after Abbas goes to the United Nations General Assembly to submit a bid for non-member state status.

The bid is expected to succeed, despite fierce opposition from Israel and the United States.

Hamas's Gaza leadership had been publicly skeptical of the bid, but changed their tone this week after Mashaal declared his backing for the status upgrade request in a telephone call with Abbas.

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