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PM IN GAZA: First Malaysian PM to visit enclave
GAZA CITY, Palestine: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak became the first Malaysian Prime Minister to set foot on the Palestinian soil when he entered the Gaza Strip this morning to begin a one-day humanitarian visit.
He is also the only the second head of government or state to visit Gaza since Hamas took control of the tiny enclave more than five years ago.
The Prime Minister who flew into Cairo yesterday, crossed the Gaza Strip from Egypt at the border crossing of Rafah.
Najib was accompanied by his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom. He was welcomed by Hamas officials at the Gaza side of border crossing led by Palestine Prime Minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh.
The Prime Minister will be taken around the small Palestinian territory - half the size of Perlis but eight time its population - by Haniyeh. He will lay the foundation stone of the new Palestinian Prime Minister's office after the old one was destroyed in an Israeli bombing last November.
Najib will be meeting wth Haniyeh's cabinet member and members of Parliament.
Later in the visit, Najib will be conferred an honorary doctorate degree from the Al-Aqsa University, after which he will address the gathering.
In a separate programme, Rosmah is visiting the Nasser Children Hospital where among others she will be laying the foundation stone of the hospital's trauma centre.
The Prime Minister and his entourage is expeced to return to Egypt later today.
Najib's rare visit is the second by a head of government or state after Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani who entered Gaza also from the the border crossing of Rafah, last October.
It is the latest in a string of high-profile trips to Gaza by Arab and Muslim leaders.
During last November's eight-day war between Hamas and Israel, a delegation of Arab foreign ministers, along with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davatoglu, visited the small coastal territory on a solidarity mission.
It was also reported that Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki will make his first visit to the Gaza Strip on February 9.
The visits have been made possible in part by Egypt's decision to loosen some of the restrictions on travel through its Rafah border crossing with Gaza.