By Marwa Awad
CAIRO (Reuters) - The leader of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement which rules the Gaza Strip, met new Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi on Thursday and hailed Mursi's election as the start of a "new era" for Egypt and the Palestinians.
It was Khaled Meshaal's first visit to Egypt since Mursi won the country's first free leadership vote.
The founding of Hamas was inspired by Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood - Egypt's oldest and most established Islamist movement - but the Palestinian group now operates independently because of its location and the conflict with Israel.
Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, is regarded by the West as a terrorist group for its refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence.
Meshaal and Mursi discussed ways to ensure that Gaza, which borders Egypt, gets the gas and petroleum it needs despite an Israeli blockade of the territory.
"We have entered a new era in Palestine's relationship with Egypt, the big sister and the leader of the Arab nation," Meshaal said after the meeting. "We were happy with what we heard from President Mohamed Mursi and his vision to handle all these issues."
The talks lasted almost two hours, twice as long as Mursi's meeting a day earlier with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority and leader of Fatah, Hamas's rival.
Hamas was isolated by Egypt under Mursi's ousted predecessor Hosni Mubarak, as well as by other Gulf and Arab states and the West. It was embraced by Iran, Hezbollah and Syria - an alliance built on hostility to Israel - though Hamas is Sunni Muslim and its three allies are Shi'ite or Shi'ite-linked Alawites.
Mursi is under pressure from many in his movement to help ease the Gaza blockade. Palestinians accuse Egypt of being complicit in the blockade by closing its border with Gaza.
Egypt's army-backed government decided in February to let more fuel into Gaza and increase electricity supplies.
But Hamas has yet to see any sign of a policy shift since the election of Mursi, who is keen not to upset Egypt's ally, the United States, and weaken his hand in a struggle with the powerful military.
Meshaal said Egypt's presidency and intelligence services would continue to shepherd a reconciliation process between Hamas and Fatah that began last year.
"Egypt has a key role in this," he said, adding that Hamas "remains strategically committed to the reconciliation".
(Writing by Marwa Awad; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Tim Pearce)