Hamas celebrates 23rd anniversary with mass rally
GAZA CITY: Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters flocked to Gaza City Tuesday for a mass rally to boost support for the militant Palestinian group on its 23rd anniversary.
Streets, cars and buildings were adorned with Hamas' trademark green, and huge crowds of flag-waving supporters clogged the streets to reach the rally where Hamas leaders lauded the group's history of fighting Israel.
"Hamas has not failed, Hamas has not collapsed," Prime Minster Ismail Haniyeh told the crowd. "Hamas did not fail to bring together government and resistance."
Hamas has often been torn between its roots as a militant group seeking to destroy Israel and a local government responsible for providing services to 1.5 million Gazans.
While sticking to its militant rhetoric, Hamas has largely observed an informal truce since a bruising Israeli offensive two years ago, forgoing attacks that could spur Israel to strike back or tighten its blockade. Any Israel response could make life harder for Gazans, some 30 percent of whom lack jobs. Many more rely on food aid. Hamas' message still resonates with many in this crowded and conservative Muslim society.
Gaza teacher Jamila Hatab, 48, brought two sons and five granddaughters to Tuesday's rally. "I trust Hamas because they are the only people on earth who still say no to America and to Israel," she said. But support for Hamas is difficult to gauge because Gazans fear repercussions if they speak freely. Hamas' control over the Palestinian coastal strip remains unchallenged, but some analysts detect growing impatience with Gaza's isolation and Hamas' moves to impose strict Islamic mores and stifle dissent.
Other, smaller militant groups criticize it for limiting attacks on Israel. Hamas official Osama Muzini called the rally a referendum on Hamas' popularity. "All people who came to the streets came to say yes to Hamas and to its model of government and resistance," he said. -Ap