Gaza celebration marred by gunfire

Palestinians have staged a mass show of unity to celebrate Israel's pullout from Gaza, but the rally was marred by skirmishes amid the ruins of the largest old Jewish settlement.

    Palestinians are celebrating the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza

    Land which just a month ago was home to more than 2000 Israeli citizens was turned into a sea of flags flown by supporters of all the main Palestinian resistance groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad on Wednesday.


    The groups have hailed the pullout as a great victory for them.


    Aware that the eyes of the world are focused on how the Palestinians govern themselves in Gaza, President Mahmoud Abbas vowed to tackle the chaos that threatens to undermine their case for statehood.


    In New York, US President George Bush, during talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, called on the Palestinians to develop leadership that would seize the opportunity for peace.


    Evacuation in focus


    "The world must hear that now is the time for Palestinians to come together to establish a government that will be peaceful to Israel," Bush said, praising Sharon for his "courage" in pushing through Israel's historic withdrawal.


    But resistance groups like Hamas and Jihad have vowed never to surrender their weapons until Israel ends decades of occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.


    The Amir of Qatar described
    the Gaza pullout as a good step

    In his speech at the UN headquarters, Amir of Qatar Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani described Israel's evacuation of Gaza as a good step. 

    He called on all countries to support the residents of Gaza to help Palestinians benefit from the evacuation.

    Despite the initial show of unity, Wednesday's rally at the ruins of Neve Dekalim broke up amid shots fired in the air by Islamist demonstrators angry that rap music was being performed live at a celebration of Gaza liberation.

    Islamists believe it is not appropriate to imitate other cultures especially if it diverts Muslims' attention away from work, worship, and Islamic values.

    During a brief standoff, soldiers fired into the air and escorted the singers out.

    They were chased by stone-throwing youths, followed by more police officers who fired into the air for 10 to 15 minutes.

    Call to end chaos


    Although Abbas kept away from the rally, a speech on his behalf was delivered by Palestinian Authority secretary-general Tayeb Abdelrahim, who called for an end to the chaos for the good of everyone.


    "People deserve a life of peace and security. We confirm that dialogue between all factions is the only way ahead. Everyone wants security and the law," he said.

    Palestinian policemen fired in 
    the air to disperse a mob 

    Leaders of the factions, such as Hamas chief Mahmud Zahar, attended the rally but agreed to a joint statement read out by Ibrahim Abu Najar, the head of an umbrella organisation representing all of the nationalist and Islamic movements. 


    He stressed that all were united in struggle until "the Palestinian people's rights are granted, they release our prisoners, we become a state and we liberate Jerusalem. This is what unites us and we all agree with this".

    With Zahar sitting next to him, Abdelrahim said: "The settlements cannot stay forever. That's a fact ... the West Bank and Jerusalem are calling for us."

    Zahar said that the pullout, the first time Israel has withdrawn from Palestinian land, was only thanks to his hardline faction's attacks against Israel.

    "Those who are standing on this land now, should know it is because of our weapons and the resistance of Hamas and the blood of our martyrs," said Zahar.

    No weapons surrender 

    Zahar also reiterated that there was no chance of his movement surrendering its weapons, regardless of the appeals of Abbas for people to respect a single armed authority.


    "Those who are standing on this land now, should know it is because of our weapons and the resistance of Hamas and the blood of our martyrs"

    Mahmud Zahar,
    Hamas chief

    "We said to Abu Mazen (Abbas) we will not allow him to confiscate a single weapon from the resistance," he said.


    The impotence of the security forces in the face of armed groups was earlier highlighted at the Rafah border where hundreds of people continued to scramble into Egypt from Gaza despite efforts by the authorities to seal the crossing.

    Witnesses said Hamas members blew a gaping hole in one concrete slab, allowing people to scramble across the border with ease.

    Egyptian forces also discovered a tunnel filled with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns on the border, an official said.

    Under pressure from Israel, both Egypt and the Palestinians promised that the situation would be brought under control.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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