GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – A top Syria-based Hamas leader secretly crossed into Gaza for his first visit in decades, an Egyptian security official on the border said Saturday.
Moussa Abu Marzouk entered the Gaza Strip late on Thursday with three other Hamas officials before returning to Egypt the following day, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Hamas’ leadership is divided between the Gaza Strip, which the group rules, and its top officials living in Damascus.
Abu Marzouk is number two in the Hamas hierarchy. He was born in Gaza and grew up in a refugee camp in the southern part of the strip, but hasn’t been back in several decades.
Hamas has been holding talks in Cairo seeking reconciliation with its Fatah rival. Both sides are working to form a unity government. The purpose of Abu Marzouk’s visit remains unknown. Hamas denies he entered Gaza and Abu Marzouk’s Gaza relatives say they had not seen him.
In addition to Palestinian reconciliation talks, international and regional diplomats are also currently involved in efforts to try to cement a truce between Israel and Hamas and pledge funds to help rebuild Gaza after Israel’s punishing three-week-long offensive.
On Saturday, a rocket fired from Gaza crashed into a school in the southern Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, the Israeli military said. The school was closed for the weekend and there were no injuries reported. Earlier Saturday, another rocket crashed into an open field about 10 miles north of Gaza. There were no Palestinian claims of responsibility for the rocket fire, which highlighted the fragility of the truce that was called separately by Israel and Hamas on Jan. 18.
The Israeli military says Palestinian militants have fired more than a hundred rockets at Israel since then. Israel has continued to strike against smuggling tunnels on Gaza’s border with Egypt it says militants use to import weapons.
Also Saturday, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The meeting came after he toured the Gaza Strip on Friday. He was the highest ranking European official to visit the territory since it was overrun by Hamas in June 2007. Solana did not meet with Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers, boycotted internationally as a terror group.
On Monday, international donors will meet in Egypt for a conference on Gaza’s reconstruction. The Palestinians are seeking $2.8 billion. Solana said Saturday the donor money will be to sent it to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, bypassing Hamas’ Gaza leadership.
U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is expected to attend the conference. She will then travel to Israel and the West Bank to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders.