The leader of Hamas won’t be returning to the Gaza Strip for up to a year, a senior official from the terror group said Tuesday.
Ismail Haniyeh left Gaza in December on his first major foreign tour since taking over as the group’s leader in 2017.
He has since visited Turkey, Egypt, and Malaysia, as well Iran for the funeral of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, killed by a US air strike in Iraq on January 3.
“Haniyeh will remain abroad and continue to run Hamas until he has completed all the tasks and all the goals of his foreign tour,” the movement’s deputy chief, Khalil al-Hayya, told journalists.
The trip could last up to a year, he said.
Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, Israel and others, has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 but an uneasy truce has taken hold of late.
Haniyeh is currently in the Gulf state of Qatar, which is a longtime Hamas ally and allied to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian Islamist movement from which Hamas’s own ideology is drawn.
Haniyeh left Gaza via Egypt, the only state apart from Israel to border Gaza, and which has maintained, together with Israel, a blockade on the territory that seeks to prevent Hamas from developing its military infrastructure.
Hayya admitted that Haniyeh’s Iranian visit had caused tensions with Egypt, which is allied with Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia.
“Our brothers in Egypt rebuked us for visiting Iran, but [Hamas] has its own independent stance,” Hayya said, saying the visit strengthened “the relationship between Hamas and Iran.”
Hamas has controlled the impoverished Gaza Strip since ousting the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority from the territory in 2007.