Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal

Gaza - Hamas’s exiled leader will step on to Palestinian land for the first time in 45 years on Friday for a “victory rally” in the Gaza Strip, displaying his newfound confidence after last month’s conflict with Israel.

The Islamist group’s leader, Khaled Meshaal, who has not visited the Palestinian Territories since leaving the West Bank at age 11, emerged emboldened from the eight-day conflict which ended in a truce he negotiated under Egypt’s auspices. He has since spoken of reaching out to other Palestinian factions.

“There is a new mood that allows us to achieve reconciliation,” Meshaal said in an interview last Friday from Qatar.

He will stay for a little more than 48 hours in the coastal enclave, which Hamas has ruled since a 2007 war with Fatah that rules the West Bank.

Hamas plans an open-air rally on Saturday to promote what it says was last month’s victory against Israel, and at the same time commemorate the 25th anniversary of the group’s founding.

The Arab Spring revolts of the past two years have brought friends of Hamas to power across the region, above all Egypt’s new President Mohamed Mursi, whose long-banned Muslim Brotherhood is spiritual mentor to Hamas.

About 170 Palestinians and six Israelis, mostly civilians on both sides, died in last month’s fighting. Israel denies that the conflict was a victory for Hamas, saying its air strikes severely weakened Hamas.

But the fighting clearly boosted Hamas’s standing in the region, winning it the support of Arab neighbours while leaving its Fatah rivals on the sidelines.

And Meshaal’s role in negotiating the truce raised his own standing within the group, although he says he plans to stand down soon. – Reuters