Hamas' Haniyeh Leaves Gaza for Hajj Pilgrimage, His First Outing Since 2013

Top official of Palestinian militant group, along with other Hamas leaders and security guards leaves Strip through Rafah Crossing on way to Cairo Airport. It is the first time Haniyeh leaves Strip since Egypt's Morsi was ousted.

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh leads the morning prayers for Eid al-Fitr celebrations, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Gaza City July 6, 2016.
Reuters / Braheem Abu Mustafa

DPA - The deputy chief of Hamas left the Gaza Strip through Egypt on Monday to take part in the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, officials from the group said.

Hamas officials at the Rafah border terminal into Egypt said that Ismail Haniyeh, along with several other Hamas leaders and 10 security guards, traversed the crossing and headed to Cairo airport to fly to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage.

It is the first time Haniyeh has left the Gaza Strip since former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi was ousted in 2013. The Hamas movement, which has had de facto control of Gaza since 2007, is loyal to Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.

Sources close to Hamas said that Haniyeh would take part in the annual pilgrimage, which starts later this week, and then hold talks in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey before returning to Gaza.

Egypt had reopened the Rafah crossing with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip last Wednesday to enable almost 2,000 Palestinian pilgrims to go to Saudi Arabia for Hajj in Mecca.