Hamas chief ends Gaza visit with Palestinian unity call

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal angers Israel with vows to "free the land of Palestine inch by inch."

The Palestinian flag

GAZA - Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal ended his first visit to the Gaza Strip on Monday with a pledge his Islamist movement would strive to heal political rifts with Palestinian rivals who hold sway in the occupied West Bank.

His comments reinforced promises he and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the rival Fatah movement, made to each other in a telephone conversation a month ago.

These were promises to forge ahead with a stalled unity deal opposed by Israel.

During his four-day stay in Gaza, Meshaal had angered Israel with vows to never recognise the Jewish state and to seek to "free the land of Palestine inch by inch."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused Europe, the United Nations and Abbas of reacting to calls by Hamas for the destruction of Israel with "deafening silence."

In brief remarks before crossing back to Egypt from Gaza, Meshaal sidestepped the conflict with Israel, and focused on internal Palestinian feuds.

"I entered Gaza carrying a great love for it and I exit with a greater love in my heart," said the 56-year-old Hamas leader, who lives in exile.

"From Gaza I have stressed the need for reconciliation, and I do so again. Gaza and the West Bank are two dear parts of the greater Palestinian homeland, and they need each other."

Hamas has ruled the tiny Gaza Strip and its 1.7 million population since 2007, when it won a brief civil war with its secular rivals Fatah, which still controls the occupied West Bank.

Israel had pulled troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005.

The two main Palestinian factions have tried, often with little enthusiasm, to patch up their differences.

Meshaal has vowed to push for the unity which most Palestinians say they want.

Both parties hope to boost ties on the heels of an eight-day war between Hamas and Israel last month that ended with a truce, and a Fatah-led initiative at the United Nations General Assembly recognising Palestinian statehood.