Vowing liberate whole of Palestine from Israeli clutches, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in a fiery speech on Monday told thousands of Palestinians that the Islamist faction's control over the Gaza Strip is "just a step" towards their goal.
War ravaged and poverty stricken Gaza City was on Monday draped in the Hamas' green flag, as tens and thousands of Palestinians rallied to express 'faith' for the outfit, which celebrated its 22nd year of formation.
"This movement, with the help of the militant factions liberated the Gaza Strip, and we say, brothers and sisters, we will not be satisfied with Gaza. Hamas looks toward the whole of Palestine, the liberation of the Strip is just a step to liberating all of Palestine," Hainyeh added.
We will never give up on Palestine from the river to the sea, Haniyeh told the crowd, referring to the pre-1948 borders of the British Palestine Mandate between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
The speech was seen by many in Fatah controlled West Bank as one against efforts towards reconciliation.
"It seems Hamas wants to continue to divide us and would try to create disturbances in the West Bank. We would fight hard to prevent extremism from entering the West Bank", a young Fatah leader, who did not want to be named," he said.
Israel Radio quoted Hamas sources as saying that captured Israel Defence Forces soldier Gilad Schalit would only see the light of day when Israel acquiesces to the Islamist group's demands and releases the prisoners that it has demanded.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, not recognised by most of the international community, waved Palestinian and Hamas flags, as he took over the stage with Mahmoud Zahar, seen as an extreme hardliner in the Islamist movement. The leaders promised a "surprise", although they gave no hints as to what that might be.
"Gaza is free. Gaza is steadfast," shouted a male singing troupe, whose members wore military camouflage.
In western Gaza, dozens of motorcyclists with green Hamas flags drove through the main street. While Hamas won a major victory in parliamentary polls in January 2006 ousting Fatah, which had dominated Palestinian politics under Yasser Arafat. But the world community did not recognise its government calling upon the movement to renounce violence, accept all treaties signed between Israel and the Palenstine Liberation Organisation, and recognise Israel.
Hamas had taken control of the Gaza coastal strip following five days of bloody clashes in June 2007 against security forces loyal to rival Fatah faction that now controls only the West Bank.
A massive three week military offensive launched by Israel in December last year leading to death to more than thousand of Palestinian and huge loss of property seems to hardly made a dent in Hamas's popularity in the coastal Strip.
Hamas leaders have shown that power hasn't corrupted them and they continue to care for the masses and stand by them. With Fatah it was a different story.
Despite adverse conditions we continue to have faith in Hamas", a supporter told PTI on conditions of anonymity.
In a display of support that matched last year's rally, a massive crowd packed an outdoor square where a huge banner draped over the wall of a building showed a picture Al Aqsa shrine and photos of Hamas leaders.
The military wing of the movement, the Iz al-Din al-Qassam brigades, held a parade. Commentators were busy trying to guess the nature of the "surprise" promised by the movement.
Some suggested that it might be a breakthrough in the prisoner exchange negotiations, but others said it was more likely that Hamas would unveil a new weapon system allegedly able to hit key targets in Israel, such as Tel Aviv.
Hamas leaders gave fiery speeches, bands performed and scout troops marched in processions during the anniversary celebrations.
Israel first sealed the coastal Strip in June 2006 after Hamas-allied militants captured an Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit.
It further tightened its noose around Gaza when Hamas overran the coastal strip, ousting forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The 1.5-million strong community in Gaza has since then been surviving on humanitarian packages sent by Israel and relying on a network of tunnels to smuggle in food and other necessary articles from Egypt.As per UN agencies, almost 70 percent of Gazans today live below poverty line and the territory may soon face a major humanitarian crisis with the local infrastructure on the verge of breaking down.