The head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, left on Monday for a regional tour expected to include stops in Iran, Qatar and Bahrain, his spokesman told AFP.
Haniya “will go to Qatar on a special Qatari plane departing from the Al-Arish airport for a Tuesday meeting with the emir of Qatar,” spokesman Taher al-Nunu said.
Haniya was travelling with his political adviser Yussef Rizq, his minister of housing and public works Yussef al-Mansi and two key Hamas members — Yehia Sinwar and Rawhi Mushtaha — released from Israeli prison last year under a deal that saw captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit freed.
During his visit to Qatar, Haniya is expected to hold meetings with Crown Prince Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and key Sunni religious figure Yussef al-Qaradawi, Nunu said.
The trip is also expected to include stops in Bahrain and Iran, where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has issued an official invitation to the Hamas leader, Nunu said, without giving a date for the arrival in Tehran.
Stops in other countries, including Kuwait, are still being discussed, according to Hamas sources.
The trip will only be Haniya’s second since his Hamas movement swept 2006 elections and then routed Fatah forces from Gaza in fighting that erupted in the summer of 2007.
On January 10, he returned to Gaza after a first trip that included stops in Egypt, Sudan, Turkey and Tunisia.
Before leaving Gaza, Haniya met the visiting chairman of the West Bank-based Central Election Committee for talks on updating the electoral register, which has not been updated since the last parliamentary and presidential elections, in January 2006.
A statement by the commission said that its chairman, Hanna Nasser, thanked Haniya for allowing the body’s Gaza office to reopen last week after a long period of restricted access in the wake of Hamas’s 2007 takeover from Fatah.
“Dr Nasser expressed hope that reopening of CEC offices will be the first step towards enabling the commission to carry out its legal mandate in the strip, starting by the registration of voters, it said.
It said that an estimated 220,000 new voters would be added to the register.
The CEC reopened its Gaza office last Wednesday but it is still waiting for a decree from Palestinian president and Fatah chief Mahmud Abbas setting an official date for fresh elections.
Under the terms of a reconciliation deal signed by Hamas and Fatah last year, legislative and presidential elections are to be held by May.