The leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas vowed to continue fighting Israel yesterday, as hundreds of thousands of flag-waving Gazans turned out to celebrate the organisation's 25th anniversary. Khaled Meshaal's visit to the Palestinian territory – a first since he went into exile in 1967 – underscores Hamas's 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 Mr Meshaal and the Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, who emerged from a door built into a large model of a rocket. The green of Hamas dominated the gathering, where some children wore military uniforms and others carried guns. Masked gunmen holding automatic rifles flanked the podium where Mr Meshaal 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," Mr Meshaal said. "We cannot recognise Israel's legitimacy." He said he would continue to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.
The 56-year-old, who leads Hamas from Qatar, entered Gaza on Friday via Egypt. Hamas has received a boost from the political ascension of its parent movement, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, in the wake of last year's Arab Spring revolts – especially in Egypt.
The 21 November ceasefire which ended the fighting in Gaza stipulated that Israel would stop targeting militants. That, together with support from Egypt, allowed Mr Meshaal to make the visit without fear of Israeli assassination, which he has narrowly escaped in the past.