Exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal told a crowd of more than 100,000 Palestinians at a mass rally in Gaza on Saturday that there would be no territorial concessions to Israel or recognition of the Jewish state.
Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, making his first ever visit to the Gaza Strip, vowed on Saturday never to recognise Israel and said his Islamist group would never abandon its claim to all Israeli territory.
“Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land,” he told a sea of supporters at an open-air rally, the highlight of his three-day stay in Gaza.
“We will never recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take.”
In an uncompromising speech, Meshaal also vowed to free Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, indicating Islamist militants would try to kidnap Israeli soldiers to use as a bargaining chip.
Israel last year released 1,027 Palestinians from its jails in return for the liberation of Gilad Shalit, a conscript soldier who was seized by Palestinian guerrillas in 2006 and hidden for more than five years in Gaza.
'Prisoners will be freed'
Thousands of Palestinian detainees remain in Israel. The Jewish state says many of them are terrorists. Hamas calls them freedom fighters.
“We will not rest until we liberate the prisoners. The way we freed some of the prisoners in the past is the way we will use to free the remaining prisoners,” Meshaal said to cheers from the huge crowd that had flocked to see him.
Meshaal, who was born in the West Bank but lived most of his life in exile, arrived on Friday for his first visit to Palestinian territory since 1975, saying he hoped he would one day die a "martyr" in the Palestinian land.
After his seven-vehicle convoy swept across the border from Egypt, Meshaal got out and kissed Palestinian soil before embracing Gaza's Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, a member of Hamas.
Green Hamas flags and the red, white, green and black of the Palestinian flag were everywhere to mark the unprecedented visit.
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Reporting from the Gaza rally, FRANCE 24 correspondent Gallagher Fenwick said, “This is a very important political moment for Meshaal. He is here to reassert that he’s the boss of the Islamist party that rules the Gaza strip and not the Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
“The rivalry between the two men can really be felt throughout this trip.”
Meshaal was accompanied by his deputy Mussa Abu Marzuk and other top officials on a trip which came just two weeks after the end of a deadly confrontation with Israel, which began on November 14 with an Israeli air strike that killed Hamas military commander Ahmed Jaabari.
Shortly after his arrival, Meshaal was taken to see the charred remains of Jaabari's car, which had been transported to Rafah especially for the visit.
"I hope God will make me a martyr on the land of Palestine in Gaza," he said.
Homecoming is ‘third birth’
Security was tight across the territory. Masked militants from Hamas’ military wing the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades out in force, wearing fatigues and carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles, as they patrolled the roads along which Meshaal's convoy was to travel.
"This is the first time that I am coming to Palestine in 37 years," said Meshaal. "This is my third birth," he told reporters at a brief press conference, saying his second was after he escaped an Israeli attempt to kill him in Jordan in 1997.
Izzat al-Rishq, another senior member of the Islamist movement's exiled politbureau, said it was a moving experience to finally be in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
"This is the greatest feeling I've ever had. It is an unforgettable historic moment," he told news agency AFP. "Our wish to kiss the soil of Palestine has come true."
Mahmud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, said the visit was replete with symbolism.
"No matter how long a Palestinian is away from his homeland, he will always return after a victory," Zahar told AFP.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2012-12-08