The political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, has called his first visit to the Gaza Strip his “third birth”.
He said his previous two “births” were the day he survived an assassination attempt by Israeli agents in Jordan in 1997, and his actual birth in 1956.
Mr Meshaal had not set foot in the Palestinian territories for decades.
His visit follows a ceasefire that ended days of violence between Israel and Hamas. The Islamist militant group has governed Gaza since 2007.
Mr Meshaal entered Gaza from Egypt at the Rafah border crossing, touching his head to the ground in celebration. Officials there said his wife had arrived late on Thursday.
In a statement to the media, he said: “I consider this moment my third birth, and I pray to God that my fourth birth will be the moment when all of Palestine is liberated.”
“Gaza is always in my heart,” he said.
An Israeli official told the BBC that no guarantees for Mr Meshaal’s safety in Gaza had been requested and none had been given.
“Hamas is Hamas, it doesn’t matter who heads it,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. “It’s position is known, violence as the only tool to promote its racist and extremist ideology.”
Israel, the US and the EU consider Hamas a terrorist organisation.
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