Hamas stages mass rally in Gaza
GAZA CITY: Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters waving green banners gathered in Gaza City on Monday to mark the 22nd anniversary of the founding of the Islamist group that rules the isolated coastal strip.
Black-clad Hamas police had earlier sealed off roads leading to the rally, as thousands of supporters were bused in from around the territory before making their way to Gaza's Al-Kutaiba Square on foot.
Many carried portraits of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the wheelchair-bound cleric who founded and led the group until he was killed in an Israeli air strike in 2004.
"In the 22 years since its founding, Hamas has been able to realise a large part of its goals and to overcome every obstacle it has faced, from prison, exile, assassinations and elections," senior Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar said.
"Our understanding of the resistance is total, and is not limited to armed conflict," he added in an interview with a news website close to the smaller and more radical Islamic Jihad faction.
Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas's armed wing the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which was responsible for scores of deadly attacks and suicide bombings in Israel, praised the group's military evolution.
"We have been able to build an army for resistance and to haunt the Zionist enemy," he said in a statement on a Qassam-linked website.
"(The Qassam Brigades) has manufactured its weapons with its bare hands... including the Qassam rocket, which terrifies the Zionist enemy," he added, referring to the makeshift and rarely lethal rockets the group fired at Israel before declaring a ceasefire after last winter's Gaza war.
Founded in 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.
Hamas won a landslide victory in Palestinian elections in 2006, routing the long-dominant secular Fatah party led by the Western-backed president Mahmud Abbas, and took over Gaza in June 2007 after months of factional unrest.
It has since tightened its grip on the territory despite harsh Israeli sanctions imposed after the takeover and the devastating Gaza war at the turn of the year, in which some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.