Gazans mass for Hamas anniversary

AFP , Saturday 8 Dec 2012

Khaled Meshaal is scheduled to speak on Hamas' 25 years anniversary, in his first visit to the strip in 45 years

Palestinian Hamas supporters take part in a rally marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, in Gaza City December 8, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

More than 100,000 Palestinians gathered in Gaza Saturday for a rally marking the 25th anniversary of Hamas to be addressed by the ruling Islamist movement's leader in exile.

Politburo chief Khaled Meshaal crossed from Egypt on Friday on his first ever visit to Gaza and his first to the Palestinian territories since 1975. His speech was set to be the headline event of the rally.

Meshaal arrived at the main stage in the Al-Qitaba complex west of Gaza City which was transformed into a sea of green Hamas flags. He was accompanied by his deputy Mussa Abu Marzuk and Gaza's Hamas premier Ismail Haniya.

The celebrations come just over two weeks after an Egyptian-brokered truce ended eight days of bloodshed with Israel which left 174 Palestinians dead.

"We used only 10 percent of our capacity in the fighting," a masked spokesman for Hamas military wing the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades told the crowd.

"If you had escalated (your attacks), so would we have," he told Israel. "We will cut the hand that extends in aggression against our people and leaders."

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ofir Gendelman, reported on Twitter that Hamas was celebrating "25 years of murdering Israelis by rockets & suicide bombings, as well as executing Fatah members &violating Pal human rights."

Fatah is the rival Palestinian faction of president Mahmud Abbas and his West Bank-based administration.

Around the rally venue, security forces were out in strength, closing off nearby roads from the early hours.

Dozens of masked members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades kept watch from surrounding rooftops.

Huge portraits of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, assassinated by Israel in 2004, and Hamas military commander Ahmed Jaabari, assassinated by Israel on November 14 this year, were on the main stage.

Between the portraits was a model of an M75 rocket of the sort fired at Israeli cities during last month's conflict that began with Jaabari's assassination.

On the backdrop was a model of Jerusalem's golden-domed Al-Aqsa mosque, which appears on the Hamas emblem.

Head of Hamas public activity Ashraf Abu Zaed said he expected more than 200,000 people to participate in the anniversary celebrations, which were also being held in other Gaza towns.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP that at least 3,000 people from Arab and Islamic states had arrived in Gaza in recent days to attend the events.

Founded in 1987 shortly after the start of the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, Hamas was inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

Its charter calls for the eventual destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state on the pre-1948 borders of the British Palestine Mandate.

In 2006, Hamas won a landslide general election victory, routing Abbas's long-dominant Fatah. Some 18 months later, Hamas ousted Fatah forces from Gaza after several weeks of running street battles.

Speaking in Gaza on Friday, Meshaal promised to "walk down the route of reconciliation, bury the division (with Fatah) and empower unity in order to be aligned as one in the face of the Zionist entity," Israel.

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