Sunday 18 February 2018

I'll free Palestine inch by inch, Hamas leader tells supporters

A child, wearing the Islamic green of Hamas, carries a toy gun at yesterday's rally in Gaza City
A child, wearing the Islamic green of Hamas, carries a toy gun at yesterday's rally in Gaza City

Abeer Ayyoub in Gaza City Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem

HAMAS leader Khaled Meshaal has vowed that Gaza's rulers will never give up "an inch of the land" to Israel in an uncompromising speech before tens of thousands of cheering supporters at a triumphalist 'victory' rally in Gaza City.

"Palestine is ours, from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land," he told the crowd on his first visit to Gaza.

He added: "We will never recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take."

The supporters – many wearing Hamas green headbands and carrying Hamas flags – packed the open-air venue in rain and strong winds to celebrate the Islamist organisation's 25th anniversary and what it regards as a victory in last month's eight-day war with Israel.

Among the crowd, which Hamas officials estimated at half-a-million, were some Fatah supporters, waving their faction's yellow flag.

It was one of increasing signs in recent weeks that reconciliation between the two rival factions could become a more realistic prospect in the coming months.

Patriotic songs forecasting the liberation of the whole land of Palestine blared from huge speakers as children, some dressed in military garb, brandished plastic guns and toy rockets.

Accompanied by Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza's de facto prime minister, Meshaal stepped through a giant model of a Hamas missile onto the stage, which took the form of a map of historic Palestine.

Dressed in a dark coat and draped in a Hamas scarf, he repeatedly raised his hands in acknowledgement of the crowd's cheers.

The Hamas leader, back on Palestinian soil for the first time in four decades, also pledged to free thousands of his country's prisoners held in Israeli jails and hinted that militants may attempt to kidnap Israeli soldiers to be used as bargaining chips.

He told the cheering crowd: "We will not rest until we liberate the prisoners. The way we freed some of the prisoners in the past is the way we will use to free the remaining prisoners."

Hamas held Gilad Shalit, a young Israeli conscript, for more than five years before releasing him in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in October 2011.

Meshaal congratulated fighters from Hamas and other armed groups who targeted long-range missiles at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, saying: "We don't kill Jews because they are Jews.

"We kill the Zionists because they are conquerors and we will continue to kill anyone who takes our land and our holy places. We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone."

© Observer

Sunday Independent

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