First West Bank Hamas rally in years draws thousands

Islamist group’s supporters gather in Fatah-controlled Nablus, amid optimism on imminent reconciliation

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Women celebrate Hamas's anniversary in Gaza, December 8, 2012 (photo credit: Flash90/Abed Rahim Khatib)
Women celebrate Hamas's anniversary in Gaza, December 8, 2012 (photo credit: Flash90/Abed Rahim Khatib)

For the first time in five years, Hamas held a mass rally in the West Bank city of Nablus Thursday, signaling improving relations between the Islamist movement and its rival Fatah, whose leader Mahmoud Abbas controls the West Bank.

Some 10,000 Hamas supporters marched from Al-Nasr Mosque to Martyrs’ Square in downtown Nablus following afternoon prayers, where a mass rally was held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the movement’s establishment, under the name “Shale Stones [the name given by Hamas to Operation Pillar of Defense] — the road to liberation.”

The Hamas rally was broadcast live on national Palestinian television and a number of Fatah officials, including the governor of Nablus, participated in it.

Such a show of unity would have been unthinkable only a few months ago. Hamas and Fatah have been at loggerheads since Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in July 2007. Following last month’s Operation Pillar of Defense, however, Hamas has begun allowing deported Fatah members back into the Gaza Strip and issuing positive statements about Fatah and its recent successful bid to achieve UN recognition for a nonmember observer Palestinian state.

“We would not be here together if it were not for the blessed hands that taught the occupation a harsh lesson in Gaza and achieved a glorious victory,” declared Fatah Revolutionary Council member Amin Maqboul during his speech at the rally.

Raafat Nassif, a Hamas leader in the West Bank, told the Hamas-affiliated news website Al-Resalah that his movement did not request permission from the Palestinian Authority to hold the Nablus rally on Thursday.

“Rallies and national activities do not need anyone’s permission,” Nassif told Al-Resalah. “With regards to the position of the Palestinian Authority and the security apparatus, we received no negative or positive indications in this regard.”

Nassif added that arrests of Hamas activists in the West Bank has increased over the past few days, and that Hamas would not “stand idly by” if the arrest campaign continued.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas’s current deputy leader-in-exile, also spoke at the rally, saying that while the UN recognition recently gained by Mahmoud Abbas was “a good political achievement,” nevertheless “it does not change a thing on the ground.”

Marzouk added that Hamas “is the leading political faction” among the Palestinian people.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, slammed Abbas for his reconciliation efforts with Hamas this week, noting that Hamas avowedly aspires to destroy the state of Israel.

Asher Zeiger contributed to this article.

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