BEIRUT

Middle East

Fatah rally in Gaza marks unity bid with Hamas

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians joined the rare rally in Gaza.

GAZA CITY: Tens of thousands of Fatah supporters rallied in the Hamas stronghold of Gaza Friday for the first time since they were routed from power there in 2007.

The rally, approved by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, marks a renewed attempt by the rival Palestinian factions to show unity following a fierce Hamas battle with Israel in November and Fatah’s subsequent recognition bid at the United Nations.

But many obstacles still remain before the sides can settle their differences, chief among them how to deal with Israel. Several rounds of reconciliation talks over recent years centered on finding ways to share power have failed to yield results.

Still, both sides expressed optimism following Friday’s unprecedented Fatah show of strength that included hours of waving their yellow flags, dancing in the streets and chanting party slogans. For years, Fatah loyalists in Gaza faced retribution from the Hamas regime, which banned them from gathering.

“We feel like birds freed from our cage today,” said Fadwa Taleb, 46, who worked as a police officer for Fatah before the Hamas takeover and attended Friday’s rally with her family. “We are happy and feel powerful again.”

Top Fatah officials arrived in Gaza for the first time since 2007. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules the West Bank, did not attend the event, but he addressed the crowd on a large screen telling them “there is no substitute for national unity.” Ihab al-Ghussian, the chief spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, said the sides would “work toward the consolidation of national unity.”

Egyptian officials say a first such meeting in months between the factions is scheduled for next week in Cairo.

After the rally, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called Abbas to congratulate him and Abbas in turn thanked Haniyeh for letting it happen. He added that both leaders expressed hope that the cooperation would lead to renewed reconciliation efforts. The warmer tone is a result of recent gains by both factions.

Abbas has enjoyed a boost in his status since he led the Palestinians’ successful bid to upgrade their status at the United Nations to a nonmember observer state. Friday, he signed a presidential decree officially changing the name of the Palestinian Authority to the “State of Palestine.” All Palestinian stamps, signs and official letterhead will henceforth be changed to bear the new name, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

The move marked the first concrete, albeit symbolic, step the Palestinians have taken following the November decision by the U.N. Abbas has hesitated to take more dramatic steps, like filing war crimes indictments against Israel at the International Criminal Court, a tactic that only a recognized state can carry out.

Hamas, meanwhile, has gained new support among Palestinians following the eight-day air and sea assault of Gaza by Israel in November.

Following the war, Fatah allowed Hamas to hold its first rally in the West Bank since the 2007 split. Hamas returned the favor Friday by allowing the Fatah rally to take place. Still, the two sides have wide differences – over Israel and over the possibility of sharing power. Fatah has held several rounds of peace talks with the Jewish state and says it is committed to a two-state solution. Hamas does not recognize Israel and is officially committed to its destruction.

Friday’s rally also served as a reminder of the conflicts within Fatah itself that continue to dog the movement: Officials canceled the event halfway through after 20 people were injured due to overcrowding, and shoving matches erupted between separate Fatah factions.

Witnesses said one pushing match was between supporters of Abbas and partisans of Fatah’s former Gaza security commander Mohammad Dahlan, who was expelled from the party because of conflicts with Abbas.

Another Fatah official, who spoke anonymously because he did not want to embarrass the party, said the rally was canceled because hundreds of Dahlan supporters jumped up on the stage and clashed with Abbas supporters.

Fatah spokesman Fayez Abu Etta attributed the injuries to overcrowding and the excitement of the rally. Later, more Palestinians were injured when part of a stage collapsed. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said overall 55 people had been injured, including three critically.

There was one death during the rally: A 23-year-old Fatah activist was electrocuted while trying to hang a flag on an electric pole.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 05, 2013, on page 1.

Recommended

Advertisement

Comments

Your feedback is important to us!

We invite all our readers to share with us their views and comments about this article.

Disclaimer: Comments submitted by third parties on this site are the sole responsibility of the individual(s) whose content is submitted. The Daily Star accepts no responsibility for the content of comment(s), including, without limitation, any error, omission or inaccuracy therein. Please note that your email address will NOT appear on the site.

Alert: If you are facing problems with posting comments, please note that you must verify your email with Disqus prior to posting a comment. follow this link to make sure your account meets the requirements. (http://bit.ly/vDisqus)

comments powered by Disqus

Advertisement

FOLLOW THIS ARTICLE

Interested in knowing more about this story?

Click here