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Gaza rally to mark Hamas anniversary as Meshaal visits

Published: December 8, 2012 | 7:42 am
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Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal waves to crowds in Gaza. 7 Dec 2012
Crowds lined the streets of Gaza to welcome Hamas political
leader Khaled Meshaal

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend a rally in the Gaza Strip to mark the 25th anniversary of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.
Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal is due to address the crowd during his first ever visit to the territory.

Mr Meshaal’s visit follows a ceasefire that ended days of violence between Israel and Hamas last month.

He is expected to unveil a future strategy for Hamas and talk of reconciliation with its rival, Fatah.

Hamas removed Fatah from Gaza by force in 2007 after winning elections there. Fatah now governs parts of the West Bank.

The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Gaza City says the event is intended to send a message that, after 25 years, Hamas is a force to be reckoned with.

It enjoys support in Gaza and feels it is gaining regional political influence after the Arab uprisings brought new Islamist governments to power, she adds.

Israel, the US and the EU consider Hamas a terrorist organisation.

The centrepiece of Saturday’s rally in Gaza City is a huge replica of a type of rocket Hamas militants fired at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in the conflict with Israel last month.

Some 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed in the eight-day engagement.

Elsewhere in Gaza City, the streets have been decorated with Palestinian and Hamas flags.

Mr Meshaal entered Gaza from Egypt at the Rafah border crossing on Friday, touching his head to the ground in celebration.

He called the visit his “third birth”.

He said his previous two “births” were the day he survived an assassination attempt by Israeli agents in Jordan in 1997, and his actual birth in 1956.

Correspondents say he was clearly aware of the desire among Palestinians for an end to the divisions that have weakened their cause.

Standing in the ruins of a house destroyed in an Israeli air strike, he said: “With God’s will… reconciliation will be achieved. National unity is at hand.”

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters news agency that Mr Meshaal’s speech on Saturday will outline the priorities of the movement “and especially the implementation of reconciliation (with Fatah)”.

In 2011, Mr Meshaal and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – the Fatah leader – endorsed an Egyptian plan to reconcile the rival factions.

An Israeli official told the BBC that no guarantees for Mr Meshaal’s safety in Gaza had been requested and none had been given.

Apart from a brief visit to the West Bank in 1975, Mr Meshaal had not visited the Palestinian territories since his family left in 1967.

He survived an Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997 only after King Hussein demanded an antidote to poison used by Israeli agents.

BBC

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