Hamas 'retains strong Gaza support'
Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters have thronged central Gaza City to mark the 22nd anniversary of the group's founding, in a massive display that showed the Islamic militants still enjoy broad support despite years of rule that have led to war, poverty and isolation.
Gaza was decked out in Islamic green, with Hamas flags fluttering from roofs, lampposts and cars. Some parents dressed small children in combat fatigues and green Hamas headbands.
The crowd packed an outdoor square where a huge banner draped over the wall of a building showed a picture of Jerusalem's main Islamic shrine and photos of senior Hamas figures.
Leaders made fiery speeches, bands played and scout troops marched in processions.
"Gaza is free. Gaza is steadfast," shouted a male singing troupe, whose members wore military camouflage. Hamas' Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh exuberantly waved Palestinian and Hamas flags to the crowd as he took the stage.
In a long, defiant speech, Haniyeh pledged Hamas would never lay down its arms, nor recognise Israel.
"This movement, with the help of the militant factions that liberated the Gaza Strip, and we say, brothers and sisters, we will not be satisfied with Gaza," he said. "Hamas looks toward the whole of Palestine, the liberation of the strip is just a step to liberating all of Palestine."
Turnout appeared to match last year's level despite a year of setbacks for Hamas, key among them Israel's military offensive on Gaza last winter.
The three-week war, launched to halt rocket fire from the Palestinian territory, failed to dislodge Hamas but inflicted heavy losses on the group and made it harder for the militants to provide for 1.5 million Gazans.
Hamas has been unable to rebuild homes, sewage lines and water pipes destroyed in the assault because Israel and Egypt continue to enforce a border blockade. Basic goods like food and some medicines are allowed into Gaza, but construction materials are not.