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Hamas supporters mark anniversary in Gaza

Dec. 14, 2011 4:07 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 15, 2011 11:35 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters rallied in Gaza City on Wednesday to celebrate the movement's 24th anniversary.

Hamas commemorated the anniversary under the slogan: "Free people living up to their promises: Oh Jerusalem, we are coming."

Supporters gathered in al-Katiba Square, where a stage was erected, shaped like a vessel carrying a 6-meter tall and 16-meter long replica of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hamas' green flags were hoisted along the main roads of the city, where traffic ground to a halt as thousands headed to the festival.

Police deployed around the city to manage the crowds of supporters, which Hamas officials said numbered 350,000.

Addressing the rally, Hamas's Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh vowed to continue resisting Israel's occupation.

"Resistance is the way and it is the strategic choice to liberate Palestine from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea and to remove the invaders from the blessed land of Palestine," Haniyeh told the crowd, which chanted: "We will never recognize Israel."

The rally was punctuated by sonic booms from Israeli warplanes overhead, familiar sounds in the Gaza Strip, where militants frequently fire rockets into Israel and Israeli aircraft carry out raids.

"Hamas, together with other stubborn resistance factions, will lead the people towards uprising after uprising until all of Palestine is liberated," Haniyeh said, referring to territory that includes the occupied West Bank and what is now Israel.

Hamas is regarded by the West as a terrorist group for its refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals.

The group has said it might agree to a long-term truce with Israel in return for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The armed wing of Hamas, meanwhile, announced figures detailing its resistance against Israel. It has fired 11,093 rockets at Israel and killed 1,365 Israeli soldiers since Hamas was formed in 1987, it says.

In a report marking the anniversary, the al-Qassam Brigades said 6,411 Israeli soldiers had been injured in the group's 1,117 military operations and claimed to have arrested 24 Israeli soldiers.

Some 1,848 Hamas militants have been killed, the group said.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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