Influential Muslim cleric Qaradawi to visit Gaza

Influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi said he will lead a delegation of clerics next week on a support visit to Hamas-ruled Gaza, a local daily reported Monday.

Qaradawi, an Egyptian who is also a citizen of Qatar and close to the Muslim Brotherhood, will travel to Gaza on May 8 along with a delegation of the Doha-based International Union of Muslim Scholars, he told Al-Arab daily.

The aim of the three-day trip to the Palestinian territory is to "support its people and participate in lifting the blockade against them," he said.

It also "sends a message to its people that stresses that we support their steadfastness and stand by them."

The delegation will travel on a plane chartered by the Qatari royal family to El-Arish, in Egypt's Sinai, and cross by land to Gaza through the Rafah border point.

Qaradawi last week boycotted an inter-faith forum in Doha because Jews were invited to the conference.

"I have decided not to take part so that I don't have to sit on the same podium with Jews, as long as the Jews are usurping Palestine... and as long as the issue of Palestine is not solved," he said.

Qaradawi was last year refused a French visa on the grounds of being anti-Jewish. He was banned from entering Britain in 2008 and has been banned from the United States since 1999.

Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, travelled to Gaza in October on the first visit by a head of state to the Strip since it was seized by the Islamist movement Hamas in 2007.

He was warmly welcomed on the landmark tour, during which he inaugurated a multi-million dollar rebuilding project.