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Hamas marks 30-year anniversary with Gaza rally

Born from the first Intifada in 1987, the movement celebrates its 30-year anniversary with large rally in Gaza City.

Meshaal

As the struggle for a Palestinian state continues, Hamas, one of the main Palestinian factions, is marking the 30th anniversary of its founding with celebrations in the Gaza Strip.

Thousands of Palestinian men, women and children, brandishing Hamas' green flags or sporting green scarves, gathered on Thursday at the al-Katiba Square in Gaza City.

Born out of the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, in 1987, Hamas was created in response to Israel's illegal occupation of West Bank and the Gaza strip.

Its founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was a hero to many Palestinians who were frustrated with the lack of results from the peace process.

Almost blind and a quadriplegic, Yassin was blamed by Israel for a series of suicide bombings and rocket attacks on Israeli targets.

In 2004, Israel killed Yassin with a missile attack near his home in Gaza. A month later another missile killed his successor, Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi.

Next came Khaled Meshaal, a survivor of a botched Israeli poisoning attempt in 1997.

Election victory

Under Meshaal, Hamas capitalised on its popularity and scored a surprise victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections.

The heightened tensions with Fatah, the main faction within the Palestinian Authority. Violent confrontations followed in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas set up a rival government.

But faced with international condemnation they struggled to govern effectively, Ahmed Youssef, a former Hamas official, said.

"It's not easy for Hamas, a resistance movement, they build their belief on the idea that the only way to liberate Palestine is to continue their military struggle, and when you start to think to change, then the whole world closes the door in front of you," Youssef, said.

During the 11 years in which Hamas ran the Gaza Strip, there have been three wars with Israel, in which more than 2,700 Palestinians were killed.

After Israel sealed off the territory as part of an ongoing siege, unemployment rose to about 43 percent, among the highest rates in the world, according to the World Bank.

Khaled Safi, a professor of modern Palestinian history, said Hamas ignored their responsibility as the leading force in the Gaza Strip.

"Hamas' famous slogan is 'Islam is the solution', but many in Gaza didn't buy it. Hamas failed to fix problems with healthcare, education, the environment, the economy.

"They got money, one way or another, but used it for empowering the resistance and ignored their obligations as a government. That's why poverty and unemployment increased," said Safi.

Gaza today

Under its new political chief Ismail Haniya, who took over from Meshaal, Hamas has given political control of Gaza back to the Palestinian Authority, a move prompted by pressure from the PA and Egypt, which resulted in a reconciliation deal in October.

Hamas' long opposition to Israel's occupation seems to have paid off in the form of popular support among the Palestinians, especially in the wake the of the US president's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Polls taken just after Trump's announcement suggest Haniyeh would win a Palestinian presidential election.


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