Thousands of Palestinians wearing the green scarves of Hamas rallied in the Gaza Strip to mark the 25th anniversary of the Islamic group’s founding with calls for military action as the only way to achieve statehood.
“The legal, diplomatic, and political struggle to gain liberation and regain lost rights is useless without armed resistance,” said the militant movement’s political chief, Khaled Mashaal, who is on his first visit to the Hamas-ruled Mediterranean enclave.
He spoke from a stage with a backdrop depicting a damaged house with a rocket sticking out of it, a reference to an attack launched from Gaza on Jerusalem during the recent eight-day military conflict between Hamas and Israel. Hamas is considered to be a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.
The bloodshed ended Nov. 21 with a cease-fire brokered by Egypt and the U.S. The following week, the United Nations General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state, approving a bid led by Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’s rival. The two groups have pledged to seek reconciliation.
“It is time to turn the page of division and open a new page of Palestinian unity,” Mashaal said. “I call on Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to come for real reconciliation that will soon be sponsored by Egypt.”
Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian Authority official and negotiator with Israel, said Abbas has made Palestinian unity a priority.
“Mr. Mashaal has to convince his colleagues in Gaza that the only way to reconciliation is to implement what was agreed on,” he said by phone from Doha. The two groups reached an agreement in February to form an interim government, after an accord signed eight months earlier was never implemented.
“Hamas and Mashaal know the political positions of the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas, that the only struggle and resistance is an unarmed and peaceful one,” Erekat said.
About 500,000 people attended the rally, among them 2,500 members of Islamic delegations from Indonesia, Mauritania, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Turkey, Libya and Jordan, according to Hamas.
“Huge crowds came to attend today because Hamas achieved a victory in the last war on the Gaza Strip and forced Israel to accept the terms of the Palestinian resistance groups,” As’aad Abu Sharkh, a political analyst at Gaza’s al-Azhar University, said by phone. “By this victory, Hamas shows its way is successful, the way of armed resistance.”
Hamas said it was the largest turnout for such an event since the group was founded in 1987. Members of the rebel Free Army of Syria attended, Hamas said, as did a representative of the Lebanon-based armed Islamic group Hezbollah.
Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, ending a partnership government with Abbas a year after winning parliamentary elections. Hamas refuses to recognize or negotiate with Israel.
Abbas, who has held peace talks with Israel in the past, controls the West Bank from the city of Ramallah. Direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel ceased completely in September 2010 after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month moratorium on building more settlements in the West Bank. Abbas said he wouldn’t resume talks without a total freeze.
More than 160 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed during last month’s conflict, as Israel carried out an aerial and naval bombardment of Gaza and Palestinian militants fired rockets and mortar shells.
“I bless the hands of the men of the armed resistance who struck Tel Aviv with rockets,” Mashaal said. “This is the only way to liberate our occupied lands. It is our only choice.”
A masked senior member of the Izzadine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, told the crowd that the movement was preparing an army that would include troops from the West Bank, Tunis, Egypt, Tehran and Ankara that would force Israelis to evacuate their homes and hand back land to the Palestinians.
“With these latest statements celebrating death and violence, Mashaal provides a sobering reminder of what Hamas is all about: holy war as the only plan, martyrdom as the desired future,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said today by text message. “Those who provide Hamas with support and understanding share responsibility for this chronicle of deaths foretold.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Saud Abu Ramadan in Gaza City at firstname.lastname@example.org; Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at firstname.lastname@example.org