Thousands of masked Hamas militants deployed throughout Gaza to protect Mashaal’s convoy, with rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles and anti-aircraft weaponry in tow.
During Friday’s visit, which was timed for the 25th anniversary of Hamas’ founding, Mashaal also paid homage at the house of the group’s spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin, who was paralyzed in a childhood accident and killed by a missile fired from an Israeli helicopter on March 22, 2004.
The assassination came at a time of heavy Israeli-Palestinian fighting, with Israeli military operations against Palestinians militants and a wave of Hamas suicide bombings in Israel.
‘‘The resistance was launched from this humble house, Yassin the giant of Jihad operated from here. We pledge to continue his path,’’ Mashaal said.
Deitch reported from Jerusalem.