Hamas marks 23rd anniversary with Gaza rally


GAZA CITY: Members of Hamas fanned out across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, draping the Islamist movement’s flag across buildings ahead of a mass rally to celebrate their 23rd anniversary.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians were expected at the celebration being held in Gaza City’s Kateeba Square, where an enormous replica of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock mosque, with its famous golden dome, was being erected.
Large pictures of Hamas leaders, including the group’s assassinated spiritual guide Ahmed Yassin, were displayed under a banner reading “I remain committed to the cause.” Hamas said it had sent buses to bring supporters to the rally from across the coastal enclave, and children at government-run schools and students at three Hamas-affiliated universities had the day off for event.
Members of some of Gaza’s political factions, including Islamic Jihad, were expected to attend. Hamas’s major rival Fatah, however, was likely to be noticeably absent.
Hamas and Fatah remain bitterly divided after long-standing tensions boiled over in 2007, a year after Hamas won parliamentary elections, and the Islamist group drove members of Fatah from Gaza, seizing control of the enclave.
Hamas policeman clad in blue fatigues and bullet-proof vests closed streets leading to Kateeba Square as the interior ministry said it had finalised preparations.
The leadership of the group, including Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya, was expected to address the rally, which is scheduled start at 1000 GMT.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the rally would provide evidence of the group’s support in Gaza. “The basic message the big crowds will send to all the parties is that lots of people support Hamas and the project of Hamas is the project of all the people,” Abu Zuhri told AFP.
“The aim of the embargo on the Hamas movement and the Gaza Strip was to force us to raise the white flag of surrender, but Hamas will not break,” he added.
Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip after the capture of a soldier by Gaza-based militants in a deadly cross-border raid in 2006. It tightened the restrictions the next year after Hamas seized control of the territory. However the Jewish state relaxed restrictions on imports to Gaza in the face of an international outcry over a deadly commando raid on a flotilla attempting to break its naval blockade of the territory on May 31.
Earlier this month Israel’s security cabinet voted to partially lift a ban on exports from Gaza. Founded on December 14, 1987 shortly after the beginning of the first intifada, or uprising, against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Hamas was inspired by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The group remains pledged to the eventual destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state on the pre-1948 borders of the British Palestine Mandate.
But Haniya has also said the organisation would accept any peace deal negotiated with Israel if the Palestinian population and diaspora approved it in a referendum.