GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Hamas' top officials on Saturday addressed teaming crowds gathered in Gaza City to celebrate the party's founding, insisting on the right to resist Israel while emphasizing the importance of reconciliation with their Fatah rivals.
Party chief Khaled Mashaal, on his first visit to Gaza, told the crowds: "Resistance is the means not the end ... for 64 years we have tried all other options but to no avail ... there is no victory without resistance."
The event marked the founding of the Islamist movement, and was also billed as a victory parade after Gaza militants were seen locally to have fended off an Israeli invasion during an eight-day bombardment last month.
Mashaal's entry to the Gaza Strip on Friday after decades in exile, during which time he survived an Israeli assassination attempt, raised the celebratory atmosphere at the event.
The Hamas chief applauded his party's military strategy, and thanked armed groups that fought alongside them during the Israeli assault, echoing praise by Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh during his festival speech.
"Jihad is the way to liberation, along with all types of national and diplomatic struggle ... there is no value for all those types without resistance," Mashaal said.
Mashaal reiterated support for President Mahmoud Abbas' UN bid -- which he called "a small but important step" -- which sought recognition of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.
But he also stressed Hamas' commitment to resisting Israel beyond the 1967 lines.
"Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land," he told a sea of supporters at an open-air rally, the highlight of his three-day stay in Gaza.
"We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take."
"We’ve tried negotiations and politics for more than 20 years … let’s review the political program," Mashaal said.
"We do not fight Jews because they are Jews, but we fight Zionists because they are occupiers and abusers."
Mashaal promised to Palestinians imprisoned in Israel that "it will not take us long before we free you from behind your bars."
"The way we freed some of the prisoners in the past is the way we will use to free the remaining prisoners," he said, evoking the prisoner exchange Hamas secured from Israel last year after it released an Israeli soldier its brigades had captured.
The leader had a conciliatory message for political rivals. Mashaal was behind last year's reconciliation deal with Abbas, which stumbled after Hamas' Gaza ranks rejected its condition of making Abbas head of a unity government.
A small Fatah delegation attended Saturday's anniversary events for the first time since the 2007 fighting between both parties.
Mashaal told the rally: "Reconciliation means the unity of the political program … one president and one parliament and one representative, which is the PLO."
He said he supported holding national elections but Hamas should be a political partner whatever the outcome of the vote.
Hamas premier Haniyeh, introducing Mashaal, said the arrival of Palestinian leaders from abroad was the culmination of a political victory breaking the siege imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip. Hamas politburo members Mousa Abu Marzouq, Izzat al-Rishq, and Saleh al-Arouri accompanied him.
During the recent Israeli assault, sympathetic governments in the region rallied in support of Gaza, and Haniyeh referred to the change in its strategic role since the Arab Spring.
"In 2008 war was declared on Gaza from Cairo, but in 2012 Gaza's victory was declared from Cairo," he said, referring back to Israel's Operation Cast Lead war on Gaza, before a less-sympathetic President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in Egypt and Islamist President Muhammad Mursi elected.
Mashaal described his emotion at returning to his homeland in his festival address. "My feelings as I came close to the land and sky of Gaza made me feel I was in another world. I shed tears and flew in the sky," he said.
"Gaza gave me back my soul," he told the rally.