More than 100,000 Palestinians gathered in Gaza yesterday 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 Hamas Palestinian Prime Minister 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, retorted 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 Palestinian President Mahmoud 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 Nov. 14, were on the main stage.
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 towns in Gaza.