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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Hamas chief visits Egypt for the first time since his election

Ismail Haniyeh discussed ways to ease blockade of Palestinian territory, group says

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, left, gestures during a memorial service for senior Hamas militant Mazen Fuqaha in Gaza City on March 27, 2017, as Fuqaha's son sits on the sits on the shoulders of Hamas' Gaza chief Yehiyeh Al Sinwar. Mohammed Salem / Reuters
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, left, gestures during a memorial service for senior Hamas militant Mazen Fuqaha in Gaza City on March 27, 2017, as Fuqaha's son sits on the sits on the shoulders of Hamas' Gaza chief Yehiyeh Al Sinwar. Mohammed Salem / Reuters

The head of the Palestinian movement Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, made visited Egypt on Saturday for his first time since his election, the group said.

Hamas has been seeking to improve relations with neighbouring Egypt in a bid to convince Cairo to open its border with the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territory controlled by the group that has no crossing except with Israel.

Relations have been tense since the Hamas-allied Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi was overthrown in 2013 and eventually replaced by former military leader Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who accused Hamas of supporting terrorism in Egypt.

But agreements made this summer suggested a detente between the two sides, with Hamas officials saying Egypt agreed to open the Rafah crossing in the coming months.

A Hamas statement said the delegation would discuss "mechanisms to ease the siege on Gaza and other issues of mutual concern", including reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah - the political group that controls the internationally recognised Palestinian government based in the West Bank.

Mr Haniyeh has not visited Egypt since he was elected in May, although senior Hamas officials have held high-level talks there.

Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, and Israel closely follows the Palestinian movement's ties with Egypt, one of only two Arab states with which it has signed a peace treaty.