Hamas supporters celebrate group's founding, hail leader

Associated Press
Published December 16, 2007

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Palestinians flooded the streets of the Gaza Strip on Saturday in the biggest show of support for Hamas since the Islamic militants seized the territory in June.

Leader Ismail Haniyeh vowed in speeches on the 20th anniversary of the movement's founding that Hamas will not compromise its hardline views despite growing isolation, poverty and popular support for the rival West Bank government of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Since Hamas wrested control from Abbas' Fatah forces, Gaza's 1.5-million residents have been virtually cut off from the outside world, with Israel and Egypt refusing to fully reopen crossings with the coastal territory.

Unemployment has risen to about 50 percent, forcing poverty up to 75 percent, Palestinian officials say.

"The message from you today is that Hamas and these masses will not yield before the sanctions," Haniyeh told the cheering onlookers at the rally in Gaza City.

The crowd shouted in response, "To you we come, Haniyeh!"

Haniyeh lambasted the renewal of peace talks between Israel and Abbas' administration in the United States last month, warning they will not bring about a cessation of Israeli settlement construction on disputed land or yield any other Israeli concessions.

The Hamas leader warned Abbas against conceding in peace talks on the Palestinian demand that refugees who fled past wars with Israel and their descendants be allowed to return to their homes. Their fate is a key sticking point in the talks that are meant to iron out a final peace agreement.

"There is no such thing as a just solution to the right of return," Haniyeh said. "It is the right of every refugee ... to return to the land."