GAZA CITY (Ma’an) -- Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, on his first trip to the Gaza Strip, joined flag-waving crowds gathered in Gaza City at a festival marking the 25th anniversary of the movement.
Mashaal and Gaza premier Ismail Haniyeh came on to the festival’s stage through a gate designed like an M75 weapon, a homemade missile which Hamas fighters used against Israel in the 8-day battle.
Hundreds of thousands turned out for the rally, and Hamas estimated attendance at half a million people.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement that Mashaal in his speech would define the future outlines of Hamas policy focusing on reconciliation with Fatah.
A delegation representing Fatah was scheduled to attend the anniversary events for the first time since the 2007 fighting between both parties.
A small cluster of Fatah flags were seen amid the sea of Hamas banners, as well as the national flags of Malaysia, Bahrain, and Egypt.
Director of border crossings in Gaza Mahir Abu Sabha told Ma'an that more than 1,000 sympathizers from Arab, Islamic and foreign countries arrived in the coastal enclave to attend the anniversary.
They are from Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mauritania, Tunisia, Libya, Britain and other countries.
A large Egyptian delegation is scheduled to attend, added Abu Sabha.
The event marks the founding of the Islamist movement, as well as celebrating victory against the Israeli forces which bombed the Gaza Strip from the air for eight days in November.
The anniversary was moved from its usual date on Dec. 14 to fall on the anniversary of the beginning of the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, on Dec. 8, 1987, seen as an overture to other Palestinian factions.
It also celebrates what was seen locally as the triumph of Hamas militants in fighting against Israel last month as armed groups fired rockets as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Hamas named the battle “Sijjil”, a term taken from a chapter in the holy Quran depicting the attack by the Christian ruler of Yemen on the Kaaba in Mecca using a huge elephant to demolish it.
According to “the Elephant” chapter, the elephant refused to enter Mecca, and his people were defeated by birds from heaven which pelted the attackers with Sijjil, a kind of shale rocks.
Hamas' anniversary celebration on Saturday opened with a recitation of the Quranic chapter.
The first speaker was a masked fighter representing Hamas' military wing, invoking the memory of the group's leader Ahmad al-Jaabari whose assassination by Israel ignited the 8-day war between Hamas and Israel.
"Peace on your pure soul, our leader Ahmad al-Jaabari, when you carried the holy Quran in one hand and the rifle in the other. Peace on you Jerusalem the city of peace. Peace on you today and when our legions advance to you.
"We defeated you with only one tenth of our resistance fighters. We used only the missile launchers and a limited number of anti-aircraft fighters," he said addressing Israeli leaders."
Muhammad al-Dadou, a Sheikh from Mauritania, told the crowds: "The holy land of Palestine does not belong to the Palestinians only, but to the whole Islamic nation. The Islamic nation will note cede an inch of this holy land."
"Our message to the Islamic nation is that they it is their duty to liberate the land of Palestine. They should provide all kinds of support including financial support and weapons to the resistance in Palestine."