Page last updated at 10:49 GMT, Friday, 29 July 2005 11:49 UK

Hamas holds mass wedding ceremony

Grooms at the Hamas wedding ceremony in the West Bank
The wedding was conducted according to strict Islamic tradition

The Palestinian militant group Hamas has sponsored a mass wedding ceremony for 226 couples in the West Bank.

The grooms, clutching copies of the Koran, stood opposite the brides in a stadium packed with 60,000 onlookers.

Organisers said the ceremony was an attempt to show a different side to Hamas, which has carried out numerous suicide bombings in Israel.

It was also a show of strength for the organisation, which is contesting Palestinian parliamentary elections.

'Not terrorists'

"This is biggest Muslim wedding in the country, maybe even in the Arab world," local Hamas leader Yasser Mansour told news agency AP.

"This says that Hamas is a part of every aspect of Palestinian society. This is a message to the world - we are not terrorists," he said.

Brides at the Hamas wedding ceremony in the West Bank
Hamas frowned the traditional white wedding attire
Hamas, which aims to establish an Islamic state over the whole of historic Palestine, is regarded as a terrorist group by Israel and Western countries.

Is has both a military structure and a political wing that is heavily involved in providing social services in Palestinian areas.

The football stadium in Nablus was filled to capacity with many spectators waving Hamas flags as they watched the wedding held according to strict Islamic tradition.

The grooms, wearing dark suits and bright green Hamas scarves, stood on a separate stage to the brides.

Over the loudspeaker, a local sheik berated Israel and the US.

"This is a love letter to the whole world from Hamas," Sundas Kataloni, 20, one of the brides told AP.

"We are getting married and are in love, and like all the rest of the world we want to live in peace," she said.

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