CAIRO - Prominent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi is planning to visit the Gaza Strip next month, in a new blow to the years-long Israeli blockade on the seaside enclave.
We are preparing to welcome Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi on May 8, Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs Ismail Radwan told reporters as he opened a new mosque in Jabaliya in northern Gaza.
Qaradawi will be leading a delegation of noted scholars, he added.
Sources said the prominent scholar would remain in Gaza for five days, during which he will lead the weekly Friday sermon on May 10.
Qaradawi's visit would be a new blow to the seven-year Israeli siege on Gaza, home to 1.8 million Palestinians.
Israel imposed a crippling siege on the strip after Hamas was voted to power in 2006.
It further tightened the blockade after the Islamist movement seized control of Gaza after deadly fighting with rival Fatah.
The Israeli siege coupled with repeated military attacks have badly worsened the living conditions in the impoverished area.
Qaradawi, the President of the International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS), is one of the most influential scholars in the world and is known for his moderate views and is widely respected around the world.
He is also the chairman of the European Council for Fatwa and Research and a trustee of the Oxford University Center for Islamic Studies.
He has published dozens of books, chiefly The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam.
He has vehemently condemned all terrorist attacks in the West, including the 9/11, Madrid and London, as well as the Bali bombing that targeted foreign tourists in Indonesia.
Moreover, he backed Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and has launched a fund-raising effort for the Syrian opposition.
Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone has described Qaradawi as a "leading progressive Muslim" and likened him to reformist Pope John XXIII.
He praised Qaradawi's staunch support to democracy and efforts to bridge the gap between Islam and the West.
Qaradawi's visit comes ahead of a planned visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Gaza.
"God willing, we will be in Gaza at the end of May, Erdogan has said through a video link with a Turkish aid center in Gaza earlier this month.
We will embrace one another there.
Erdogan, a staunch advocate of the Palestinian cause, has earlier said that his visit aims "to help the process" of lifting an Israeli embargo on Gaza.
But Erdogan's visit has raised tension between Turkey and its major ally the United States after Secretary of State John Kerry publically called for postponing the visit.
"We have expressed to the prime minister (Recep Tayyip Erdogan) that it would be better delayed," Kerry told reporters in Istanbul last week, urging Erdogan to wait for the "right circumstances".
"It was our feeling in a constructive way that we thought that the timing of it is really critical with respect to the peace process that we're trying to get off the ground.
But Kerry's call drew fire from the Turkish government.
Only our government decides where and when our prime minister or another Turkish official would go to, and is not in a position to seek permission or acceptance of any authority, deputy prime minister and government spokesman, Bulent Arinc said.Because both Mr. Kerry and the world know that Turkey has the power to do whatever it wishes at the desired time.