Yusuf al-Qaradawi said Thursday that "this land has never once been a Jewish land. Palestine is for the Arab Islamic nation." The Qatar-based cleric was made famous by his popular TV show and is widely respected in the Muslim world.
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Al-Qaradawi, who arrived in Gaza accompanied by dozens of clerics, was welcomed by Hamas officials including Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a ceremonial reception. During the ceremony he was granted Palestinian citizenship and a diplomatic passport. He is slated to visit the house of former Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin as part of his two-day visit.
Al-Qaradawi with Haniyeh in Gaza (Photo: Reuters)
The visit has antagonized Palestinian leaders in the West Bank who oppose all formal visits in Gaza. Hanan Ashrawi, member of the PLO's executive committee, said that the visit enhances the division between Gaza and the West Bank. "The public must come out against the visit as al-Qaradawi is interfering in political matters beyond his scope."
Ceremonial reception (Photo: AFP)
Other Palestinian factions affiliated with the PLO also said they oppose the visit. Hamas said in response that such criticism only serves to deepen the divide between Gaza and the West Bank.
Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 following several days of fighting against the rival Palestinian faction Fatah.
The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, which governs in the West Bank, has condemned al-Qaradawi's visit. It says his presence is cementing the rift between the two Palestinian factions.
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