Egyptian-born cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi (Photo: Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images)
Radical Egyptian cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi began a visit to Gaza Wednesday night and immediately upon arrival declared a desire to die for Allah.
"Our wish should be that we carry out Jihad to death," he said.
"We should seek to liberate Palestine, all of Palestine, inch by inch," he said, according to a Reuters correspondent in Gaza.
According to AFP, Qaradawi said, "Our whole ambition is to die on the path to Allah, and for long life to Palestine."
"I am sure we will conquer. Nobody thought that the people would triumph and oust the tyrants who ruled Egypt and Tunisia. And Syria will also emerge victorious, as well as Islam," he added, speaking of the so-called Arab Spring revolutions.
The 86-year-old Egyptian-born leader with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood is leading a delegation of 50 Muslim clerics from 14 countries on their three-day visit to the Gaza Strip which is ruled by Hamas, a terror group closely aligned with Muslim Brotherhood ideology.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh greeted the visitors, saying it was "an honor for us to receive the sheikh of the Arab Spring on the soil of Palestine."
Qaradawi has said the objective of his visit to Gaza is to "support its people and participate in lifting the (Israeli) blockade against them."
Qaradawi has enormous influence in the Muslim world as he hosts the widely-watched Al Jazeera program "Sharia and Life" with an audience estimated at 60 million Muslims worldwide.
Qaradawi has a history of making anti-Semitic statements and inciting to violence against Jews and Israelis.
He has lauded suicide bombings, calling them "heroic martyrdom operations."
The Anti-Defamation League reports that in 2009, Qaradawi told his Al-Jazeera TV audience, "I will shoot Allah's enemies, the Jews, and they will throw a bomb at me, and thus I will seal my life with martyrdom."
During a sermon on January 9, 2009, Qaradawi called on God to punish the Jews, to "kill them, down to the very last one."
The ADL also refers to a quote of Qaradawi's translated by MEMRI in which he voices support for violent jihad against Israel. "I support the Palestinian cause. I support the resistance and the jihad," Qaradwi said. "I support Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. I oppose the peace that Israel and America wish to dictate. This peace is an illusion. I support martyrdom operations."
Presiding over a mass wedding of Palestinian terrorists last year, Qaradawi looked forward to the day when "crowds of Muslims enter [Jerusalem's] Al-Aqsa Mosque chanting Allah Akbar."
While Israel has not reacted to Qaradawi's visit (as of this writing), the Palestinian Authority is not happy to see the cleric bolstering the clout of Hamas in Gaza.
According to the Jerusalem Post's veteran Arab Affairs Correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh, Hamas views Qaradawi's visit as a symbolic victory. By contrast, the Palestinian Authority has voiced opposition to the visit, saying it only deepens the rift between Hamas and Fatah, the rival faction which rules the Palestinian Authority.
"We do not welcome this visit," said Mahmoud Habbash, the PA minister for Waqf [Islamic religious] affairs, according to the Jerusalem Post.
"This is a visit that carries political dimensions and is intended to recognize as legitimate Hamas's rule in the Gaza Strip," he added.
The Post also quotes senior Fatah official Mahmoud Aloul who called Qaradawi's visit "suspicious."
Fatah supporters in Gaza refused to attend the welcome reception in honor of Qaradawi, while secular rival factions in the West Bank said they would boycott the cleric and his delegation.