By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Marwa Awad

GAZA (Reuters) – Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal ended decades of exile on Friday with a triumphal first ever visit to the Gaza Strip that underscored the Islamist group’s growing confidence following its latest conflict with Israel.

After passing through the Egyptian border crossing, Meshaal knelt and touched the ground with his forehead, offering up a prayer of thanks. He was then greeted in the warm December sun by dozens of Palestinian officials from an array of factions.

Thousands of supporters lined the streets, which were decked in green Hamas flags, as he drove through the coastal enclave, boisterous resistance songs blasting from loudspeakers and gun shots ringing out in welcome as his motorcade reached the city.

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