Hamas supporters attend a massive rally in Gaza.
Hamas on Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of the targeted killing of its founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, by issuing new threats against Israel and calling for an end to the peace talks between Israel and the PLO .
Thousands of Hamas supporters attended a major rally in Gaza City that was held under the motto, “Loyalty and Persistence on the Path of the Martyrs.”
An Israeli helicopter gunship killed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, in the city in 2004.
The rally was one of the biggest held by Hamas in the past year. Hamas leaders said that the large turnout showed that their movement continues to enjoy mass support despite its increased isolation.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told the crowd that his movement was not afraid of Israeli threats to attack the Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks against Israel.
“The era of threats has passed with no return,” he declared. “Those who talk about reoccupying the Gaza Strip are being stupid.”
Haniyeh warned Israel against embarking on such a move, saying that it would pay a heavy price.
“The resistance has become stronger and more developed,” he cautioned.
The current calm in the Gaza Strip was not the result of weakness on the part of Hamas, he said. “This is the calm that precedes the practical response to the Zionist enemy from the land,” he added.
Haniyeh denied that Hamas was meddling in the internal affairs of Egypt or other Arab countries. “We have no security role in Sinai or any other Arab area,” he said. “Hamas is a Palestinian liberation movement that is interested only in its cause and the liberation of its land.”
He called on Egypt to stop “demonizing” Hamas and punishing the residents of the Gaza Strip.
“Why is the Gaza Strip being punished?” Haniyeh asked. “It is being punished for remaining steadfast. Is it being punished for saying no to Israel or because it carried weapons and wanted to liberate Jerusalem?” Referring to the dispute with Fatah, he renewed his call for Palestinian unity and for holding Palestinian Authority elections.
Haniyeh called on the PLO leadership not to extend the talks with Israel beyond the April 29 deadline. The peace process has failed to achieve anything, he said.
Haniyeh acknowledged that Hamas was going through a “difficult time and harsh challenges.”
He added, however, that Hamas is not panicking and is not in a crisis.
Hamas’s interior minister, Fathi Hammad, said that Sunday’s rally was a “referendum” that reflected Palestinian support for the “resistance that will destroy the Zionist entity in a few years.”
Hammad, who is in charge of the Hamas security forces, said that his movement would not succumb to any pressure from various parties.
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