The head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya. (Photo: AFP)
The head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, left on Monday for a regional tour expected to include stops in Iran, Qatar and Bahrain, his spokesman told AFP.
Haniya "will go to Qatar on a special Qatari plane departing from the Al-Arish airport for a Tuesday meeting with the emir of Qatar," spokesman Taher al-Nunu said.
Haniya is travelling with his political adviser Yussef Rizq, his minister of housing and public works Yussef al-Mansi and two key Hamas members -- Yehia Sinwar and Rawhi Mushtaha -- released from Israeli prison last year under the deal that saw captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit freed.
During his visit to Qatar, Haniya is expected to hold meetings with Crown Prince Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani and key Sunni religious figure Yussef al-Qaradawi, Nunu said.
The trip is also expected to include stops in Bahrain and Iran, where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has issued an official invitation to the Hamas leader, Nunu said, without giving a date for the arrival in Tehran.
Stops in other countries, including Kuwait, are still being discussed, according to Hamas sources.
The trip will only be Haniya's second since his Hamas movement swept 2006 elections and then routed Fatah forces from Gaza in fighting that erupted in the summer of 2007.
On 10 January, he returned to Gaza after a first trip that included stops in Egypt, Sudan, Turkey and Tunisia.