Page last updated at 15:24 GMT, Sunday, 14 December 2008

Gaza crowds for Hamas anniversary


Gaza City was filled with the green flags of Hamas

Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters are rallying in a Gaza City stadium to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the militant group's founding.

The mass rally - with its sea of green flags - is being seen as a show of strength by Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since a violent takeover in June 2007.

In Cairo Israeli and Egyptian officials were to meet in a bid to renew a six-month-old Gaza ceasefire with Hamas.

In Syria, though, Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal cast doubt on a renewal.

Hamas accuses Israel of failing to honour its side of the truce, under which it agreed to ease its blockade of Gaza.

Israel says Hamas has failed to stop militant groups from launching rockets and mortar rounds on its towns.

In a statement, the exiled leader said it was "most likely" the truce would not be renewed, Hamas said.

Also on Sunday, senior Hamas leaders were expected to discuss Hamas's relations with rival Palestinian group Fatah, which rules the West Bank.

'Stone-throwing to guns'

In Gaza City, busloads of demonstrators flooded into the city from across the territory.

Crowds flocked to the streets, many wearing the green of Hamas and waving flags in support of the group.

We will defend ourselves and we will defend our land and we will defend our right,
Ismail Haniya
Hamas leader in Gaza

The Associated Press said the crowds filled an arena in Gaza City which can accommodate 150,000 people.

Among the performances was a sketch mocking the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, seized by militants close to the Gaza Strip in 2006.

There was angry reaction in Israel to this. The Jerusalem Post newspaper quoted Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev describing the skit as "another example of [Hamas] cruelty and inhumanity".

The Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, used the occasion to issue a rallying cry to supporters, accusing Israel of planning "new agression" against the Gaza Strip.

"We tell the occupation and the world we are here steadfast on our land and we will defend ourselves and we will defend our land and we will defend our right," he was reported as saying.

In a statement on its website, one of Hamas' senior officials, Mahmoud Zahar, paid tribute to the organisation on its anniversary.

"Hamas has gone from stone-throwing to guns and rockets, from a support base of a few thousand people to a backing of millions in Arab countries and around the world," he said.

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