Gaza City, Gaza Strip - Representatives of an anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect paid a brief visit to the Gaza Strip on Thursday on a solidarity mission with the area's militantly anti-Israel Hamas leaders.
It was the first time envoys from the Neturei Karta have visited the Gaza Strip since Hamas seized control in June 2007.
The sect denounces Israel's existence and traditionally embraces its enemies - including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom Neturei Karta members famously hugged at a Holocaust denial conference in December 2006.
Four sect representatives from the U.S. sat down with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Thursday, after crossing into the territory through Egypt the night before with dozens of other pro-Palestinian activists. Israel, which maintains a strict blockade of Gaza, would not let them cross through its passages with the territory.
"We feel your suffering, we cry your cry," said Rabbi Yisroel Weiss upon arriving Wednesday night. "It is your land, it is occupied, illegitimately and unjustly by people who stole it, kidnapped the name of Judaism and our identity," said Weiss, wearing the black hat, black coat and long side-curls typical of ultra-Orthodox Jews. His delegation left early Thursday.
Hamas seeks the destruction of the state of Israel and has killed more than 250 Israelis in suicide bombings. Israel, along with the U.S. and European Union, considers Hamas a terrorist group.
During their Thursday meeting, Haniyeh told them he held no grudge against Jews, but against the state of Israel, according to a Hamas web site.
Neturei Karta, Aramaic for "Guardians of the City," was founded some 70 years ago in Jerusalem by Jews who opposed the drive to establish the state of Israel, believing only the Messiah could do that. Estimates of the group's size range from a few hundred to a few thousand.
Representatives of the sect had previously visited Gaza when it was ruled by Fatah, Hamas' more secular rival.
One acted as Yasser Arafat's adviser on Jewish affairs, and a delegation traveled to Paris in 2004 to pray for the Palestinian leader's health as he lay dying in a hospital. Months later, a group participated in a conference in Lebanon with Hamas and Hezbollah militants.