Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday called for the formation of an
Arab army “to liberate Jerusalem and the Aksa Mosque very
Addressing tens of thousands of supporters during a rally in Gaza
City marking the 24th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, Haniyeh said his
movement remained committed to armed struggle as a strategic option to liberate
“all the occupied Palestinian territories,” and that Hamas, “together with all
the free peoples, will lead the fight to liberate all Palestine.”
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under the banner of “Jerusalem, We are Coming,” the rally was one of the biggest
shows of support for Hamas in recent years.
Hamas officials estimated the
number of participants at 350,000. However, some Palestinians put the figure at
fewer than half of that.
The event was attended by many schoolchildren,
some under the age of 10, dressed in military outfits and brandishing fake
rockets and rifles.
One of the boys, Iyad Taha, nine, told a local
reporter: “As of today, I belong to Hamas. When I grow up I will be with Hamas
and defend the Aksa Mosque and Muslims. Hamas beat the occupation [Israel] and
ridiculed them. It kidnapped their soldier and forced them to release our
Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders addressed the crowd from a
16-meterlong podium in the shape of a ship carrying an emblem of the Aksa
The world could no longer ignore Hamas’s strong presence in the
Palestinian arena, Haniyeh said. “Anyone who wants to enter the Palestinian
arena will have to deal with Hamas, which is a prominent and great player in the
arena,” he said.
Referring to the recent prisoner exchange agreement for
Gilad Schalit, Haniyeh said that the “armed resistance” has succeeded in gaining
the release of Palestinians from Israeli prisons. He hailed the prisoner swap as
a “security, military and negotiations battle” with Israel.
warned that the Palestinian Authority’s continued clampdown on Hamas supporters
in the West Bank was threatening to torpedo efforts to reconcile Fatah and his
The Hamas leader heaped praise on the Arab Spring, saying the
antiregime protests have benefited Hamas in particular and the Palestinian cause
Yehya Sinwar, a Hamas operative who was released in the
prisoner exchange in return for Schalit, called on all Palestinians to join
Hamas and to prepare for the battle for Jerusalem.
The era of weakness is
gone forever, “and from now on no one [a reference to Israel] will remain
strong,” Sinwar told told the crowd.
Appealing to Arabs in Libya,
Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf, Sinwar urged them to
prepare for the “big march” on Jerusalem, which he said will take place
On the eve of the celebration, Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam,
published statistics about its “martyrs” and terrorist attacks over the past 24
According to the figures, Hamas killed 1,365 Israelis and wounded
6,411 others, while it lost 1,848 of its men.
The group boasted that its
members carried out 1,117 “jihad” attacks, including 87 suicide bombings. It
also said that its members fired 11,093 rockets and missiles at Israel over the
past 24 years.
A Hamas spokesman expressed satisfaction with the large
turnout, saying it serves as a reminder that the movement could easily win the
next Palestinian elections, slated for May.
Hamas legislator Mushir
al-Masri said that Wednesday’s rally was a sign of his movement’s popularity
among Palestinians. At one point during the event, he asked the crowd through
loudspeakers: “Will you vote for Hamas?” The response from the crowd came