Supporters of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement started massing in the main squares in Gaza on Thursday, ahead of an official anniversary festival for the party on Friday.
The Bethlehem-based Ma'an news agency reported that traffic was at a standstill around Saraya square in Gaza City on Thursday night, where flag-waving crowds gathered to celebrate Fatah's 48th year.
Supporters carried Fatah banners and chanted slogans of the party, in the first mass rally since Hamas violently took control of Gaza in 2007.
Similar marches took places in cities across Gaza on Thursday evening, witnesses told Ma'an.
Earlier on Thursday, reported the news agency, Fatah founder Abdul Aziz Shaheen, known as Abu Ali, entered Gaza for the first time in more than five years, accompanied by Fatah Central Committee member and former PA security chief Jibril Al-Rajoub, as well as Osama Al-Qawasmi, a Fatah spokesman in the PA-assigned areas of Judea and Samaria
Friday's festival in Saraya square will feature cultural performances and a recorded speech by Abbas, reported Ma'an.
Hamas indicated last week it would allow Fatah to celebrate its founding in Gaza, for the first since it took power in a violent confrontation that began over five years of bitterly divided governments.
Under Egyptian mediation, the two groups reached a unity agreement in April 2011 but it has so far faltered as the parties spar over its implementation.
During Israel’s recent Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, the two factions appeared to be getting closer, announcing they have decided to end infighting. The Palestinian Authority later announced it will release Hamas-affiliated detainees as a goodwill gesture to boost reconciliation efforts.
Abbas said a few weeks ago that it was time to seal a reconciliation with Hamas.