'Victory is Near', Abbas Tells Supporters in Gaza
In a speech Friday, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas used the same language regarding Israel as he always uses when addressing his people.
AFP reported that hundreds of thousands of supporters of Abbas's Fatah party held a mass rally in Gaza on Friday, their first since Hamas violently seized control of the territory in 2007.
"Victory is near and we will meet you in Gaza in the near future," Abbas was quoted by AFP as having said in a short speech from his headquarters in Ramallah, beamed to the Gaza crowd at the Saraya complex on giant screens.
"Gaza was the first Palestinian territory rid of (Israeli) occupation and settlement and we want a lifting of the blockade so that it can be free and linked to the rest of the nation," he said.
Hamas, in a sign of reconciliation with Fatah, permitted the rally to go ahead as the climax of a week of Gaza festivities celebrating the 48th anniversary of Fatah taking up arms against Israel.
Demonstrators, many of them women and children waved PLO and Fatah flags and carried pictures of Abbas, AFP reported. Balloons in the colors of the PLO flag with portraits of Abbas hovered above.
"This crowd is a vote in favor of (Abbas's) Palestinian Authority and shows that Fatah is still out in front," local Fatah leader Selim al-Zaraei told AFP.
Fatah Gaza spokesman Fayez Abou Eita told AFP that "hundreds of thousands of people are currently taking part in the public festivities."
Hamas congratulated Fatah on the anniversary, saying it considered it a "celebration of national unity and a success for Hamas as well as Fatah."
"This positive atmosphere is a step on road to restoring national unity," it said, according to AFP.
Abbas's address was to be followed by a speech by senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath, who travelled to Gaza for the event. He was to be followed by Hamas official Rawhi Mushtaha.
But Shaath and Mushtaha did not end up delivering their speeches after the crowd became rowdy, Abou Eita said.
Hamas and Fatah had been at loggerheads since the Islamist movement seized control of Gaza in June 2007.
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.
Earlier this week, Abbas lit a torch in the grounds of his Ramallah headquarters to start the celebrations of the 48th anniversary of his Fatah movement.
During the celebration he spoke of last month's United Nations vote upgrading the Palestinian Authority's status to a non-member observer state, referring to it as the "birth certificate" of a Palestinian state.
"We have a birth certificate... and we want to complete the march toward full independence," Abbas said, according to AFP. "Next year, 2013, will be the year of statehood and independence."
The West insists that a Palestinian state must be achieved through peace negotiations with Israel, but since 2009 Abbas has refused to come to the negotiating table with Israel and has continuously tried to impose preconditions on talks.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)