- Jan 30, 2008
Thousands gather in Gaza for Hamas rally and Meshaal speech
Tens of thousands of people have gathered to attend a rally in the Gaza Strip to mark the 25th anniversary of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal gave a fiery speech during his first ever visit to the territory.
He said he would never recognise Israel, and insisted Palestinians would never cede any part of their land.
Mr Meshaal's visit follows a ceasefire that ended days of violence between Israel and Hamas last month.Later he is expected to unveil a strategy for Hamas and talk of reconciliation with its rival, Fatah.
Hamas removed Fatah from Gaza by force in 2007 after winning elections there. Fatah governs parts of the West Bank.
'Made in Gaza' The BBC's Yolande Knell in Gaza City says the event is intended to send a message that, after 25 years, Hamas is a force to be reckoned with.
It enjoys support in Gaza and feels it is gaining regional political influence after the Arab uprisings brought new Islamist governments to power, she adds.
Tens of thousands of Gazans have made their way to the rally at the al-Qatiba complex west of Gaza City to hear the speech by Mr Meshaal.
Ahead of that, a masked spokesman for Hamas's military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, told the crowd: "We will cut the hand that extends in aggression against our people and leaders."
"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 his supporters.
"We will never recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel."
In 2011, Mr Meshaal and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas - the Fatah leader - endorsed an Egyptian plan to reconcile the rival factions and our correspondent says there may be announcements of significant steps to move the process forward.
But she says it is unlikely such a rally will hear any signs of moderation in the strategy towards Israel.
The centrepiece of Saturday's rally in Gaza City is a huge replica of a type of rocket Hamas militants fired at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in the conflict with Israel last month. It has Made in Gaza written on it.
Some 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed in the eight-day engagement and Hamas has presented Saturday's event as a victory rally.
Ahmed Shaheen, attending the rally with his children, told Reuters: "This is a day of victory. The presence of Khaled Meshaal is a sign of this victory."
Huge portraits of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Ahmed Jabari, the military commander assassinated in an Israeli strike on 14 November, framed the stage.
Israel says its operation was successful in killing Jabari and significantly reducing the militants' stockpile of rockets.
Israel, the US and the EU consider Hamas a terrorist organisation.
In terms of the Hamas leadership, Mr Meshaal said in January he did not wish to stand again as political chief and the future make-up at the top remains unclear.
Mr Meshaal entered Gaza from Egypt at the Rafah border crossing on Friday, touching his head to the ground in celebration. The streets of Gaza City were decorated with Palestinian and Hamas flags.
Correspondents say he was clearly aware of the desire among Palestinians for an end to the divisions that have weakened their cause.
Standing in the ruins of a house destroyed in an Israeli air strike, he said: "With God's will... reconciliation will be achieved. National unity is at hand."
Apart from a brief visit to the West Bank in 1975, Mr Meshaal had not visited the Palestinian territories since his family left in 1967.
He survived an Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997 only after King Hussein demanded an antidote to poison used by Israeli agents.
An Israeli official told the BBC that no guarantees for Mr Meshaal's safety in Gaza had been requested and none had been given.
BBC News - Thousands gather in Gaza for Hamas rally and Meshaal speech