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Khaled Mashaal's visit to the Palestinian territory -- a first in his lifetime of exile -- underscores Hamas' rising clout and regional acceptance since its eight-day conflict with Israel last month.
At the main stage in Gaza City, a roaring crowd greeted Mashaal and Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who emerged from a door built into a large model of a rocket fired at Israeli cities during the recent fighting.
Hamas' green dominated the gathering, where some children wore military uniforms and others carried guns. Masked gunmen holding automatic rifles flanked the podium where Mashaal gave a fiery speech.
"We are not giving up any inch of Palestine. It will remain Islamic and Arab for us and nobody else. Jihad and armed resistance is the only way," Mashaal said, referring to holy war. "We cannot recognize Israel's legitimacy."
Mashaal said he would continue to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails -- referring to a swap last year where an abducted Israeli soldier was exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
"From the sea to the river, from north to south, we will not give up any part of Palestine -- it is our country, our right and our homeland," said the Hamas chief. "We are all one," he added, referring to Palestinians residing in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and inside Israel. "We are all united in the way of resistance."
The 56-year-old Mashaal, who left the West Bank as a child and now leads Hamas from the Gulf state of Qatar, entered Gaza on Friday via Egypt, for the first time ever and after a long exile from Palestinian territory, to attend the mass rally.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians gathered in Gaza on Saturday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Hamas. Tributes to Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas terror chief killed by Israel on the first day of Operation Pillar of Defense last month, were central to the event.
Times of Israel
Times of Israel