Hamas honors Qaradawi with Palestinian citizenship as Fatah boycotts visit
GAZA STRIP - Hamas has welcomed leading Muslim cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi’s visit on Thursday, calling it an “historic” event, while the Palestinian Authority and other Palestinian groups have condemned the scholar for his controversial political and religious positions.
Qaradawi’s high-profile visit to Gaza gives a boost to the Islamist group Hamas that runs the enclave, but also lays bare Palestinian rivalries.
Qaradawi was greeted by Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of Gaza's Hamas government, which has worked hard to bolster its international standing by inviting senior figures to the tiny territory sandwiched between Israel and Egypt.
Haniyeh honored Qaradawi by granting him Palestinian citizenship and a passport.
"Palestine today welcomes the Sheikh of the Arab Spring, the Sheikh of the revolution and the Sheikh of Jihad in Palestine," Haniyeh said in a welcome speech.
The chairman of the International Federation of Muslim Clerics, is based in Qatar and has been a vociferous supporter of the revolutions that have shaken the Arab world in the last two years, bringing new governments to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Soon after arriving in the Gaza Strip, the 87-year-old Egyptian-born cleric called on Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims to work together to bring about the downfall of Israel.
"Our wish should be that we carry out Jihad to death," said Qaradawi, who has gained a large following in the Muslim world thanks to regular appearances on Al Jazeera television.
Qaradawi warned on Thursday nobody was allowed to cede "any part of Palestine," during a visit to the Hamas-ruled Palestinian enclave of Gaza.
"No one is allowed to give up any part of Palestine," he said during a meeting with Haniya and members of the government.
Egyptian-born Qaradawi, who is a citizen of Qatar and close to the Muslim Brotherhood, was heading of a delegation of 50 clerics from 14 countries.
"Palestine was never Jewish," he said. "Palestine is Arab and Muslim and will remain Arab and Muslim, and Islam will prevail."
Haniya, who handed Qaradawi a Palestinian passport, reaffirmed that his Islamist movement would "never give up or recognise Israel."
"We will not give up our rights, we will never give up an inch of Palestine and won't allow anyone to cede a grain of Palestinian land," he said.
Qaradawi’s statements are seen as an attempt by the Muslim cleric to mend what’s been broken by Doha last month, when Qatar suggested Arab acceptance of peace initiative’s amendment to include land swaps between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim had said an Arab League delegation that met US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington last month recognised the possibility of a land swap.
But Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said there had been no change in the Arab League's 2002 plan, which called on Israel to withdraw from all territories it occupied in 1967 in return for diplomatic recognition.
The emir of Qatar made a visit to Gaza last year and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has promised to travel to Gaza this month.
Hamas fought a brief civil war against Abbas's Fatah faction in 2007 and swiftly gained full control of Gaza. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who holds sway over parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, argues that foreign visits to Gaza undermine his own position as leader of the Palestinian people.
The PA leadership has come out against Qaradawi’s visit to the Gaza Strip, saying it would harm Palestinian interests and deepen the split between Hamas and Fatah.
“We do not welcome this visit,” said Mahmoud Habbash, the PA minister for Wakf affairs.
“This is a visit that carries political dimensions and is intended to recognize as legitimate Hamas’s rule in the Gaza Strip.”
Mahmoud al-Habbash, the Palestinian minister of religious affairs, based in the West Bank, said Qaradawi's visit would reinforce internal divisions and support the "separatist entity" Hamas had established in Gaza.
Fatah supporters shunned the reception thrown for Qaradawi.
The Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in the West Bank called on its members to boycott Qaradawi’s visit and to refrain from covering his activities in the Gaza Strip.
Several Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip, including Fatah and the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Leninist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, also said they would boycott Qaradawi and his delegation
Israel, which has imposed a blockade on Gaza in a stated attempt to prevent weapons reaching Hamas, had no immediate comment on Qaradawi's arrival. He is due to leave Gaza on Saturday.
The cleric gained notoriety in the West when he came out firmly in support of suicide attacks carried out by Palestinian groups against Israeli targets during an intifada, or uprising, that began in 2000 and petered out in 2005.