Hamas Supporters Gather for 25th Anniversary

Posted December 8th, 2012 at 6:00 am (UTC-5)
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Tens of thousands of Palestinians have gathered in Gaza for a rally marking the 25th anniversary of Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian militant group.

Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of Hamas, is expected to speak at the rally Saturday.

The anniversary celebrations come just two weeks after an Egyptian-brokered truce ended eight days of the bloodiest round of fighting between Israel and Gaza in recent years.

Meshaal set foot in Gaza for the first time Friday after crossing from Egypt. He was greeted by crowds of supporters, including Gaza's Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders and friends.

Meshaal had not visited the Palestinian territories since leaving the Israeli-occupied West Bank after the 1967 Six-Day War. He returned in 1975 but only for a brief visit. The exiled Hamas chief has been leading the Islamic militant movement from Qatar and has most recently been in Egypt.

Meshaal was nearly assassinated in Jordan in 1997 by Israeli agents who squirted a deadly poison into his ear, surviving only when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was persuaded by international mediation to provide Meshaal with an antidote.

Hamas is shunned as a terrorist organization by Israel and the West, which back the rival and more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. But Meshaal's visit points to Hamas' improving stature in the Middle East following the revolutions of the Arab Spring.

Hamas won a parliamentary majority in the 2006 Palestinian legislative election and ousted Fatah forces from Gaza a year later. Since then, the two sides have led rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza.