updated 2/28/2009 10:00:07 PM ET 2009-03-01T03:00:07

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. The purpose of his visit was unknown. Hamas denied he entered Gaza and Abu Marzouk's Gaza relatives say they had not seen him.

Hamas leadership has been holding talks in Cairo seeking reconciliation with its Fatah rival. Both sides are working toward forming a unity government but have been unable to bridge their gaps.

Speaking Saturday in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that any unity government would have to recognize Israel, something Hamas opposes.

"We are moving in steady steps toward Palestinian reconciliation to form a Palestinian government that will abide by our known commitments, which are two-state vision and the signed (peace) commitments," he said after meeting European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

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.

Fragility of a truce
On Saturday, eight rockets were fired from Gaza, including one that crashed into an empty school and another in an an open field. 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.

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 sent 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.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments