ARAB LEAGUE CHIEF AMR MOUSSA IN FIRST VISIT TO GAZA

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The Head of the Arab League is visiting the Gaza Strip, the first senior Arab official to do so since the Islamist militant group Hamas took over in 2007.

Amr Moussa's visit is partly intended to add to pressure on Israel to end its Gaza blockade, correspondents say.

Nine people were killed when Israeli troops boarded an aid flotilla trying to break the blockade on 31 May.

Israel and Egypt have held a tightened blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized control of the Palestinian territory.

Mr Moussa's trip will also be aimed at trying to heal a rift between Hamas and Fatah, who control the West Bank.

“This blockade which we are all here to confront must be broken and the position of the Arab League is clear,” Mr Moussa said as he was met by Palestinian leaders at the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

Following the flotilla raid, Egypt opened its border with Gaza allowing people with valid passes to cross.

Egypt has said the crossing will remain open “indefinitely”.

'Unsustainable'
Mr Moussa is scheduled to meet with the leaders of Hamas, as well as other factions in the territory.

Analysis
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Tim Franks,
BBC News, Jerusalem
Amr Moussa's visit carries significance on two levels.

It is intended to add to the growing international pressure for Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza – a blockade which Israel argues is necessary to preserve security, but whose rationale and effects on the people of Gaza is, elsewhere, widely opposed.

Mr Moussa's appearance in Gaza also extends a hand to Hamas – an Islamist movement the Arab League has up to now preferred to keep at arm's length.

There will be further talk now of trying to broker a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah – the two main, bitterly divided Palestinian factions.

But there is also some back-covering here: Arab diplomats are well aware that in recent times some of the most vocal support for Gaza has come from two countries not in the Arab League – Turkey and Iran.

He is also expected to meet local businessmen and non-governmental organisations during the 10-hour trip.

Mr Moussa's trip is also aimed at finding a way of bringing two Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah together, says the BBC's Tim Franks in Jerusalem.

Hamas gunmen drove Fatah out of Gaza in 2007, and relations between the two groups remain strained.

The trip was announced soon after the flotilla of ships, led by the Turkish Mavi Marmara, were prevented from entering the waters off Gaza.

They were carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid, including building materials which are currently restricted under the terms of the blockade.

The Israeli government says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas and other militant groups launching rocket attacks on Israel.

The restrictions mean life for the 1.5 million population of Gaza has become crippling, correspondents say.

Many are still living in makeshift camps after their homes were destroyed in an Israeli incursion in December 2008 and January 2009.

Last week US President Barack Obama said the blockade was “unsustainable” and pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.

At the beginning of June Mr Moussa said the Arab League, a 22-member forum representing Arab nations, would go to the UN Security Council to demand the blockade be lifted.