Hamas vows never to recognise Israel at anniversary celebration

Hamas vows never to recognise Israel at anniversary celebration

Hamas' leader on Saturday vowed never to recognize Israel and called for Jihad (holy war) to liberate all of historic Palestine, at a celebration in Gaza on the militant movement's 25th anniversary, dpa reported.

"I say that Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean sea and from its north to its south is our land and our homeland and we will never make concessions over one inch of it," Khaled Mashaal told tens of thousands of Palestinians at a rally in central Gaza City.

"Jihad and armed resistance are the real way for liberation and gaining lost rights. Armed resistance together with all kinds of legal, diplomatic and political struggle," he said.

Mashaal arrived on an emotional first-ever visit to Gaza on Friday. Leader since 1996, he is originally from the West Bank and has been based in recent years in Syria and Qatar.

His arrival follows a ferocious eight-day bombing campaign by Israel last month, launched in response to persistent rocket fire from Gaza.

Prior to his speech, a masked senior member of the Hamas military wing urged Israelis to "prepare their passports and start leaving for the countries they came from."

The rally in al-Qataba square began with Mashaal and Ismail Haniya, prime minister of the Hamas government in the Strip, emerging from a door cut into a 9-metre-tall mock rocket placed on a huge stage.

The rocket symbolized the M-75 missiles which Hamas says it manufactured itself, and which it launched at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in last month's fighting.

"I bless the hands of the men of the armed resistance who struck Tel Aviv with the rockets, therefore Jihad and armed resistance are the only way to liberate our occupied lands," Mashaal said.

A Hamas statement said the crowd, many of whom were waving green flags and wearing green headbands, the colour of Hamas, numbered half a million people.

Although December 14 is the actual date of Hamas' founding, the movement is celebrating its 25th anniversary this weekend.

The Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement has ruled the Gaza Strip since June 2007, when it routed security personnel loyal to the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas.

The event led to the Palestinian territories being split politically as well as geographically, with Hamas ruling in Gaza, and an Abbas-appointed government in the West Bank.

The rift has not been healed, despite attempts at reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement, and Mashaal used his speech Saturday to call for unity.

"It is time to turn the page of division and open a new page of Palestinian unity. Hamas has no interest in keeping the internal division going, and believes that division is a disaster. From here I say that reconciliation is our aim in Hamas."

"I tell Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to come for real reconciliation and to end division," he said.

"We have to struggle together ... the (Palestinian) state will be the fruits of resistance and not the fruits of negotiations," he continued.

The West, including the United States, says Hamas is a terrorist organization and refuses to have diplomatic relations with it. The movement has refused to renounce violence, honour past Israel-Palestinian agreements or accept the Jewish state's right to exist.

An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire brought last month's fighting to an end, leading Hamas to proclaim "victory" over Israel, since it was still able to launch its rockets until the end.

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