The rival Palestinian factions may be edging towards a rapprochement since the Israeli assault on Gaza.
Thousands of Palestinians have attended a rare Hamas rally in the city of Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank celebrating the 25th anniversary of the group’s founding and its recent “victory” over Israel in Gaza.
“Our message is that Hamas is here, on the ground and in the heart of our people“
– Hosni al-Burini, Hamas MP
The rally is the first time that the West Bank’s ruling Palestinian Authority (PA), which is dominated by Hamas rival Fatah, has allowed such a gathering since 2007.
It comes as the two movements take tentative steps towards restarting a reconciliation process.
“Our message is that Hamas is here, on the ground and in the heart of our people,” Hamas MP Hosni al-Burini told the AFP news agency.
Yussef Iqtishaat, a teenager attending the rally with his family, was among those eagerly brandishing the movement’s flag.
“It’s a great day thanks to the victory in Gaza,” he told AFP.
In November, Hamas and other Palestinian factions fought an eight-day conflict with Israel that left 174 Palestinians and six Israelis dead and ended with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.
Among those speaking at the Nablus rally was Amin Maqbul, the secretary-general of Fatah’s revolutionary council, who saluted the rival movement.
“Hamas has given thousands of martyrs, prisoners and wounded for Palestine,” he said, adding that Fatah head and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would soon hold reconciliation talks with Hamas’s chief-in-exile.
“There will soon be a meeting in Cairo between Abu Mazen [Abbas] and Khaled Meshaal to complete the reconciliation and this will be a historic day,” he assured the audience.
The rally was a rare opportunity for Hamas to display its support in the West Bank, where the PA has clamped down on the rival group.
The longtime rivalry between the two Palestinian movements boiled over in 2007, a year after Hamas won a surprise victory over Fatah in legislative elections.
Armed members of the two groups battled in Gaza, with Hamas eventually routing Fatah and taking control of the coastal territory, while the PA has continued to rule the West Bank.