Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Turkey early Sunday morning, Palestinian news sites reported, marking the first time he has traveled outside the Gaza Strip and Egypt since he assumed the role as the terror group’s top leader in May 2017.
Pictures posted on Sawa, a Gaza-based news site, showed Haniyeh posing for photos with several senior Hamas leaders, including Saleh al-Arouri, the terror group’s deputy chief.
The Sawa report did not state whether he would meet with Turkish officials.
Haniyeh’s arrival in Turkey comes after he spent several days in Cairo last week.
Hamas-linked news sites reported last week that Haniyeh arrived in Egypt on Monday to hold a number of meetings with Egyptian officials regarding “important files related to the Palestinian cause.”
Egypt has been a key player in brokering informal ceasefire understandings between terror groups in Gaza, including Hamas, and Israel. The understandings have largely entailed Israel lifting restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza, in exchange for Hamas maintaining relative quiet in the border region between the coastal enclave and the Jewish state.
— وكالة سوا الإخبارية (@palsawa) December 8, 2019
Israeli officials hold that their restrictions on movement seek to prevent the terror groups in Gaza from importing weapons or the means to build them.
Haniyeh’s arrival in Turkey came after three rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel on Saturday evening. There were no reports of injuries or damage caused by the rockets or shrapnel from the interceptions. Israel responded with airstrikes on Hamas positions in Gaza.
No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the rocket fire, but Israel generally holds Hamas, the enclave’s de facto ruler, responsible for all attacks emanating from the Strip.
The Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Saturday that Haniyeh’s trip abroad would also include Malaysia, Russia, Qatar, Lebanon, Mauritania and Kuwait, citing an unnamed Palestinian source.
Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk told the Dar al-Hayat news site in November that Egyptian authorities had barred Haniyeh from traveling outside Gaza and Egypt for almost three years to prevent him from meeting with their political rivals.
Hamas, which frequently meets with Egyptian intelligence officials, also maintains close ties with countries that Cairo views as foes such as Qatar and Turkey.
Haniyeh lives in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza. Khaled Mashaal, his predecessor, never lived in the West Bank or Gaza while he served as Hamas chairman.
In January, a trip Haniyeh planned to make to Russia to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was postponed. At the time, Abu Marzouk tweeted that he and Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister and presidential Middle East envoy, had discussed over the phone “the postponement of the chairman of the Hamas Politburo’s visit to another time because of the [Russian] foreign minister’s busy state of affairs.” Abu Marzouk’s tweet made no mention of Egypt preventing Haniyeh from traveling to Russia.
Egypt controls the only crossing out of Gaza apart from those between Israel and the territory.