Confident Hamas stages rallies in West Bank

HEBRON, West Bank Fri Dec 14, 2012 10:50am EST

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HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) - Supporters of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas took to the streets of Hebron on Friday for the first time in five years, in a sign of improving relations with their secular Fatah rivals.

Fatah and Hamas have been at loggerheads since the latter pulled off a surprise win in 2006 parliamentary polls. A brief civil war a year later saw Hamas seize control of the nearby Gaza Strip, leaving Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, to consolidate his power base in the West Bank.

But the two sides have urged unity following an eight-day conflict last month that Hamas fought with Israel in Gaza. The rallies across the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including in Hebron, are the most tangible evidence yet of improved ties.

Little boys in balaclavas, gripping plastic M-16 rifles and models of Hamas's long-range rockets, perched on their fathers' shoulders as a crowd of several thousand commemorated the 25th anniversary of Hamas's founding.

Revellers waved Hamas's green flags and sang along to martial songs blaring from loudspeakers, "Strike Israel like an earthquake, unleash volcanoes on it!"

"This movement is our future. We will fight for every inch of our land, it's ours," said Abu Malek, 60, not using his formal name for fear of being arrested for his views.

Palestinian forces later stopped a small group of protesters from going to attack a nearby Israeli military checkpoint. The youths responded by throwing stones at their own police.

The confidence of the Western-backed Fatah is also on the rise following its initiative at the United Nations last month to see Palestine recognized as a de-facto state.

The two factions say they hope to translate their accomplishments into a long-promised unity agreement, and Hamas allowed Fatah demonstrators to celebrate the U.N. move in Gaza, another unprecedented sight since their 2007 divorce.

UNDERLINING CONCERNS

However, the continued detention of each other's members, disagreements over elections and disputes over their respective security forces, means any lasting deal is still some time off.

Underscoring the concerns, some demonstrators at a Hamas rally in Nablus on Thursday said they were uneasy about exposing themselves so openly as supporters of the Islamist group.

"It's still not safe for us. We are outside celebrating now, but the security forces will come make their arrests tomorrow like always," said Salem Riyad, wearing a leather jacket and a green headband across his forehead.

Hamas has watched with patient delight as uprisings in the Arab World have swept its Islamist ideological cousins into power, especially the Muslim Brotherhood of neighboring Egypt, which helped broker a truce ending last month's Gaza fighting.

Demonstrators waved the flags of Egypt and the opposition movement of Syria, from which Hamas was forced to move its political headquarters after falling out with the Syrian government over its campaign against largely Sunni Muslim rebels.

"By God's will, developments in our region and new sights in our Islamic nation will come together with our Jihad to help us liberate Jerusalem," Osama Hamdan, a Hamas political official, told the crowd via a telephone link in Lebanon.

"We will never recognize Israel," the crowd chanted.

While Hamas's charter calls for the destruction of Israel, Abbas and Fatah are committed to a negotiated settlement to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

(Additional reporting By Jihan Abdalla; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Angus MacSwan)

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Comments (6)
reality-again wrote:
Since both Fatah and Hamas claim they feel ‘emboldened’, they could soon engage in a new round of civil war, according to Middle Eastern logic.

Dec 14, 2012 12:29pm EST  --  Report as abuse
paintcan wrote:
Why are Hamas rallies a sign of improving relations with Fatah?

Is it that Fatah hasn’t tried to stop the rallies, yet? I’m a little slow on the uptake. Life isn’t very exciting in New England.

It seems more like Netanyahu got what he wanted with his decision to build more settlements. He eroded Fatah’s credibility.

The Palestinians are always fish in a barrel and the Israeli’s enjoy poking sticks into it whenever they need a little excitement or some more room for “their kind”. I’ve been seeing that for over 30 years. But until I got this computer it wasn’t an issue I cared to soil myself with. There were always more immediate concerns to avoid being aggravated about. Having no paid employment for over three years has been the kiss of death and I’m a dedicated “obsessive fan” now.

Netanyahu and the right wing government in Israel are probably the greatest friends of Islamic militancy the Arab world has seen since the Crusades.

It’s a pity it makes religion look like insanity and a game for liars and hypocrites. But that’s what works and really gets the blood boiling. Like it isn’t hot enough there already?

I think if you pealed away the lawyers of the Israeli right wing – you’d find a crazy bunch of revenge seekers that are drunk senseless on stories of “Jewish suffering”, are bound and determined to spread it around and make suicide bombers look like “cries for help”. In fact, I’m sure of it. Isn’t the relationship between the two “countries” a kind of “codependency”? The bartered bride obviously wants a divorce but “hubby” keeps playing on her insecurities. What’s the name of that Hitchcock movie?

There won’t be an end to the conflict there until the “international community” starts sending psychiatrists instead of diplomats. They can start with the Jewish Right Wing. I have a hunch the Palestinian side is still well within the range of normal tolerances. Then they can go to work on our right-wingers.

Dec 14, 2012 1:55pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Harry079 wrote:
“We will never recognize Israel,” the crowd chanted.

Then be prepared to NEVER have a State of your own.

Then you accept Irsael occupying the territories that are yours and Israel would give up to the Palistinians.

Then you can watch as more and more settlements are built in the oocupied territories and collect buckets of rocks to throw at later dates.

Dec 14, 2012 2:04pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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