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Gaza celebrates Mubarak exit; Hamas demands change

GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinians in Gaza let off fireworks and shot into the air to celebrate the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Friday, and the Islamist group Hamas called on Egypt’s new rulers to change his policies.

“The resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is the beginning of the victory of the Egyptian revolution,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

“Such a victory was the result of the sacrifices and the steadfastness of the Egyptian people,” he told Reuters.

Gaza residents heard gunfire erupt across the city when news of Mubarak’s departure spread, and fireworks lit up the sky.

The coastal enclave of Gaza shares a border with Israel and Egypt. Both countries have imposed strict limitations on the movement of people and goods since Hamas took control of the territory, hampering its economy. The limits, they say, are to keep out weapons and materials that could be used in combat.

Abu Zuhri called on the new Egyptian leadership to permanently open its border with Gaza to allow free movement.

Mubarak’s departure was also welcomed in the West Bank, which is controlled by Hamas’s rival, Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“What’s happening in Egypt represents strength to us and to all Arabs. This is a peaceful revolution that did not vandalize anything,” said Nabil Shaat, a senior member of Abbas’ Fatah faction.

Though welcoming the change, authorities in both territories have been swift in recent weeks to crack down on fledgling protests in their own territories, anxious to prevent any contagion from Tunisia or Egypt.

Some 300 Palestinians celebrated Mubarak’s resignation in Ramallah where Abbas lives, singing nationalistic Arab songs.

In Gaza, thousands of people waving Egyptian flags and chanting “long live Egypt!” rallied in the streets, stopping traffic.

Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas’s forces in 2007, had blocked a Fatah rally earlier on Friday to prevent focus from shifting onto the inner-Palestinian divide. Though several thousand Hamas members later gathered in Gaza, calling for Abbas’s ouster.

Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, spoke by phone with the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition party which shares Hamas’s Islamist ideology, and congratulated him on the “success of the revolution.”

Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, also urged Egypt to reconsider its peaceful ties with Israel. Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace accord with Israel in 1979.

Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah; writing by Crispian Balmer; editing by Diana Abdallah