Fatah stages mass rally in Gaza
The Fatah party of Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas today staged its first rally in the Islamist Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip since 2007, reflecting
warming ties between the two rival factions.
Tens of thousands of supporters marched carrying Fatah banners, and top party officials arrived in Gaza for the first time since they were ousted from Gaza by Hamas rivals in 2007.
Fatah is marking the 48th anniversary of its founding.
A long hiatus in peace talks between Mr Abbas's administration and Israel has narrowed ideological differences between the two main Palestinian factions. Solidarity has deepened since Israel's Gaza assault in November, in which Hamas, though battered, declared victory against Israel.
Mr Abbas remains based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but several of his senior advisers attended today's march in the Gaza Strip, festooned with yellow Fatah flags rather than the green Hamas colours that have dominated such events since Hamas fighters drove Fatah from the territory in 2007. A recorded speech by Mr Abbas was being screened.
"The message today is that Fatah cannot be wiped out," said Amal Hamad, a member of the group's ruling body. "Fatah lives, no one can exclude it and it seeks to end the division."
The demonstration marked 48 years since the secular Fatah's founding as the spearhead of the Palestinians' fight against Israel. Its longtime leader Yasser Arafat signed an interim 1993 peace accord that won Palestinians a measure of self-rule.
Hamas, which does not recognise Israel's right to exist, rejected the deal, but fought and won a Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006. It formed an uneasy coalition with Fatah until their violent split a year later.
Though shunned by the West, Hamas feels bolstered by the electoral gains of Islamist political movements in neighbouring Egypt and elsewhere in the region - a confidence reflected in the fact today's Fatah demonstration was allowed to take place.
"The success of the rally is a success for Fatah, and for Hamas too," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. "The positive atmosphere is a step on the way to regain national unity."
Hamas was recently allowed to hold its first West Bank rallies.
Egypt has long tried to broker Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, but past efforts have foundered over questions of power-sharing, control of weaponry, and to what extent Israel and other powers would accept a Palestinian administration including Hamas.
Israel fears grassroots support for Hamas could eventually topple Mr Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. The Palestinians say Israel's settlement building in the occupied territory has undermined Mr Abbas's credibility as a statesman.
"Hamas could seize control of the PA any day," Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday.