Rally marking Fatah anniversary (archive)
Rally marking Fatah anniversary (archive)Reuters

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs celebrated in a Gaza City park on Saturday to mark the 58th anniversary of the founding of the Fatah organization, The Associated Press reported.

The crowds turned Katiba Park into a sea of yellow flags and pictures of Fatah founders and leaders, including Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor Yasser Arafat.

It was a rare show of popularity for Fatah in the heartland of Gaza, which is controlled by Fatah’s main rival, Hamas.

Hamas and Fatah have been at odds since 2007, when Hamas violently took control of Gaza in a bloody coup. Hamas permitted Fatah to hold Saturday’s rally, though in several past occasions following the 2007 takeover, Hamas had blocked or restricted activities for Fatah.

While polls indicate Fatah is not that popular, the huge turnout could be seen as a rare opportunity to protest Hamas’ heavy-handed rule in Gaza, noted AP.

The rally comes at a time of division between Palestinian Arabs. Fatah and Hamas remain bitter enemies and repeated Arab attempts to reconcile them failed.

A unity government between Hamas and Fatah collapsed in 2015 when Abbas decided to dissolve it amid a deepening rift between the sides.

Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement in October of 2017, as part of which Hamas was to transfer power in Gaza by December 1 of that year.

That deadline was initially put back by 10 days and later reportedly hit “obstacles”. It has never been implemented.

PA elections were scheduled for last year, but Abbas officially announced that they would be postponed. While he cited Israel’s refusal to allow Arabs residing in eastern Jerusalem to vote as the reason for the postponement, many believe that the real reason is Abbas’ fear that he would lose the elections to Hamas.

In early December, a senior Hamas official announced that a new round of dialogue for inter-factional reconciliation would be held in Algeria at the end of that month.