Feted in Gaza, Hamas leader hits out at Israel

Sat Dec 8, 2012 2:30pm EST
 
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Crispian Balmer

GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, in a defiant speech during his first ever visit to Gaza, told a mass rally on Saturday he would never recognize Israel and pledged to "free the land of Palestine inch by inch".

A sea of flag-waving supporters poured into the city centre for celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Islamist group, which has ruled the Gaza Strip - a small splinter of coastal land - since 2007.

Meshaal was born in the nearby West Bank but spent all his adult life in exile before arriving in Gaza on Friday for a triumphal visit. The trip comes two weeks after an eight-day conflict between Israel and Hamas that ended with a ceasefire.

"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 the crowds, saying he wanted the Palestinians to have all the territory that makes up modern-day Israel.

"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," he said.

Hamas said 500,000 attended the four-hour rally, held under a leaden winter sky. There was no independent crowd estimate.

"Oh dear Meshaal, your army struck Tel Aviv," supporters chanted, referring to missiles that Hamas's Qassam military brigade fired for the first time last month at Israel's largest city, 70 km (40 miles) up the coast, and also at Jerusalem.

"Oh Qassam, do it again, hit Haifa next time," the crowds said, referring to a port city north of Tel Aviv.   Continued...

 
Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal (L) and senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh flash victory signs upon arrival at a rally marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, in Gaza City December 8, 2012. After receiving a hero's welcome on his return from decades in exile, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal will attend a rally in Gaza on Saturday to mark the founding of his Islamist group and celebrate "victory" over Israel. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem