Tens of thousands mass in Gaza for Hamas anniversary
AFP - 2 hours 32 minutes ago
GAZA CITY (AFP) - - Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters massed in Gaza City of Sunday to mark the 21st anniversary of the creation of the Islamist movement which violently seized control of the Gaza Strip last year.
Busloads of demonstrators flooded into the city from across the densely populated territory, waving the green flags of the Islamic Resistance Movement.
"Hamas has gone from stonethrowing to guns and rockets, from a support base of a few thousand people to a backing of millions in Arab countries and around the world," one of the movement's top officials in Gaza, Mahmud Zahar, boasted on the Hamas website.
"It has succeeded in striking at Israel's national security."
Hamas won an upset victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006 but remains blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by both the European Union and the United States as well as Israel.
Hamas television put the turnout for the afternoon demonstration in Katiba Square in the city centre in the hundreds of thousands.
The head of the Hamas administration in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, was due to address the rally, which was intended as a show of strength in the Islamists' standoff with the West Bank-based administration of president Mahmud Abbas.
Haniya was expected to set out the Hamas position on a troubled six-month-old truce with Israel which runs out on Thursday after weeks of persistent violence.
The Islamists accuse Israel of failing to honour its side of the bargain by easing its crippling blockade of aid-dependent Gaza.
Israel accuses Hamas of failing to stop militant groups from raining rockets and mortar rounds on its southern towns.
"There is no sense in extending the truce while the enemy is not respecting it and is keeping Gaza in a state of siege," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum, without saying whether the Islamists intended to declare it over.
Senior Israeli defence ministry official Amos Gilad, who led the Israeli side in the Egyptian-brokered negotiations for the original truce, was in Cairo on Sunday for talks on extending it.
Despite a spate of tit-for-tat attacks since November 4 that has prompted some Israeli ministers to call for a major ground offensive against Gaza, Gilad has repeatedly spoken out in favour of extending the truce, arguing that there is no military solution.
"Experience shows that military operations don't always solve problems in the Middle East," he said late last month. "You have to find the optimal solution. To date no appropriate military solution has been found for the Strip."
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Palestinian supporters of the Islamist Hamas movement ride in cars waving the movement's green flag during a rally on December 13 to mark the 21st anniversary of Hamas's founding in Gaza City ahead of the main celebrations expected Sunday. Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters massed in Gaza City of Sunday to mark the anniversary.
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