Arab League Chief Visits Gaza for Talks With Hamas

Arab League Secretary General Chief Amr Moussa is the highest Arab official to visit Gaza since Hamas seized control in 2007.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa visited the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the highest Arab official to do so since its seizure by Hamas in 2007, and called for an end to Israel's blockade of the Palestinian territory.

Moussa crossed into the enclave from Egypt, two weeks after Israel's deadly interception of a Gaza aid flotilla.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa AP June 2, 2010

"This blockade...must be lifted and must be broken and the Arab League decision is very clear in this regard," Moussa said.

Egypt had kept its border with Gaza largely closed, bolstering Israel's embargo, since Hamas's war with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction three years ago.

But Cairo reopened its Rafah crossing with the territory after Israeli marines killed nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists during violent confrontations on a Turkish-flagged vessel in the aid convoy on May 31.

Moussa's trip could signal a shift in Arab policy following Israel's raid on the flotilla.

Many Arab countries have held the Iranian-backed Hamas at arms length, including Egypt, one of the Arab League's most important members.

Palestinian and Arab League officials said Moussa's visit was aimed at giving momentum to reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah that Egypt has sponsored but which have failed to bridge deep mistrust between the two rivals. Any power-sharing agreement would give Abbas a foothold in Gaza.

In what appeared to be a bid to avoid any impression of Arab League recognition of Hamas's Gaza takeover, Moussa planned to meet Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas government, in his home rather than in his office, officials said.

Moussa did however coordinate the trip with Abbas, presumably to take some of the sting out of his diplomatic nod to Hamas.

"Reconciliation is a key issue," said Moussa. "We hope this beginning will end with reconciliation."

Hamas Health Minister Basim Naeem said the visit indicated that "the boycott between Gaza and the Arab nation was broken".

Naeen said Hamas also hoped the trip would "be the start of a practical plan to lift the (Israeli) blockade of Gaza once and for all, in a complete and comprehensive way".

On Friday, Israel said it wanted to enlist global support to improve the flow of civilian goods to the Gaza Strip, while seeing to it that weapons did not reach the territory.

Amid an international outcry over the bloodshed in the flotilla raid, Israel faced mounting pressure to ease or lift a blockade that critics have described as collective punishment.