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Fatah party stages first rally in Gaza since 2007

By The Associated Press

This article was published January 4, 2013 at 7:11 a.m.

— The Fatah party of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas staged a huge rally Friday in the Gaza Strip, the first such gathering in the territory since the Islamist Hamas group took control there in 2007 and a reflection of the warming ties between the two rival factions.

Throngs camped out overnight in a downtown Gaza square to ensure themselves a spot for the anniversary commemoration of Fatah’s 1959 founding, and tens of thousands marched early Friday carrying Fatah banners.

Top party officials arrived in Gaza for the first time since they were ousted from Gaza by Hamas rivals in 2007, and a recorded speech by Abbas, who rules in the West Bank, was also screened to the crowd.

“There is no substitute for national unity,” Abbas said in the televised address.

Hamas has gained new support among Palestinians after eight days of fighting with Israel in November, in which its militants lobbed rockets toward the heartland Israeli cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for the first time.

After the fighting, relations have thawed between Hamas and Fatah, and Hamas was allowed to hold its first West Bank rallies since the 2007 split in which Hamas seized Gaza and the secular-leaning Fatah was left in control of the West Bank.

Senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath said the party received a congratulatory message from Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who expressed hope that the two factions could reconcile their differences and work together as joint representatives of the Palestinian people.

“This festival will be like a wedding celebration for Palestine, Jerusalem, the prisoners, the refugees and all the Palestinians,” said Shaath.

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