Saturday, December 8, 2012 12:25 PM
By: Saud Abu Ramadan and Gwen Ackerman
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — 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.
The militant movement’s political chief, Khaled Mashaal, on his first visit to the Hamas-ruled Mediterranean enclave, spoke at Saturday’s assembly, which the group said was also attended by about 2,500 members of Islamic delegations from Indonesia, Mauritania, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Turkey, Libya, and Jordan.
Meshaal, in an uncompromising speech reported by Reuters, told the rally he would never recognize Israel and pledged to "free the land of Palestine inch by inch."
Meshaal, who was born in the West Bank but spent all his adult life in exile before arriving in Gaza on Friday for a 48-hour visit, said, "Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land."
Reuters reported that he told the crowds he wanted the Palestinians to have all the territory that makes up modern-day Israel.
"We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take," Meshaal said.
The stage had 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 United States, and the European Union.
The bloodshed ended Nov. 21 with a cease-fire brokered by Egypt and the United States. The following week, the U.N. 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.
“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 and not negotiations, which can never bring any victory.”
Hamas put the size of Saturday’s rally at 500,000 people, saying 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 air and naval bombardment of Gaza and Palestinian militants fired rockets and mortar shells.
“It doesn’t matter who they are, Hamas still stands for violence, bloodshed, extremism and racism,” Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said Friday by phone. He said Mashaal’s visit “belies the preposterous accusation of a siege on Gaza.”
Mashaal has led Hamas’s political bureau since 1996. He was born in the West Bank in 1956 and has lived in Kuwait and Jordan, where his involvement with Hamas began. He was based in Damascus until moving to Qatar this year, and has said he won’t seek re-election as the group’s political leader.
Israel and Egypt sealed Gaza’s borders in June 2007 after Hamas broke off its power-sharing agreement with the Palestinian Authority. The restrictions have been eased in recent years, and Hamas says further loosening is one of the elements of last month’s cease-fire accord.