Hamas marks 27th anniversary with mass military parade
GAZA CITY - Hamas on Sunday held a massive military parade in Gaza City to mark its 27th anniversary.
Across Gaza City, hundreds of gunmen belonging to the Izz-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, marched through the main streets, holding home-made rockets and displaying a host of arms. Thousands of residents also flocked to show their support.
For the first time, Qassam fighters appeared with locally-made drones which the group used during the 51-day war with Israel this summer to capture and broadcast video clips from above Israeli cities. All Qassam Brigades including air defense, navy, tunnel building among others took part in the anniversary march.
Abu Obaida, the Qassam Brigades spokesman, appeared in public at the event and thanked the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey and also Qatar for their continued backing of Hamas. He also warned Israel that if the situation did not improve, and the blockade was not lifted as agreed in this summer’s ceasefire, that Hamas would strike back.
“This explosion is not in the interest of Israel,” he said.
Hamas will not accept anything less than the full re-construction of Gaza and “we will remain with you [the people of Gaza] in the battle of building and construction,” he added, while stressing that Hama’s wish to resist would never run out.
Hamas also released footage claiming to show Mohammed Deif, the founder of the military wing who was targeted by the Israeli Army during the war. It is unclear if he was killed, injured, or escaped unharmed, although his wife and young child died in the blast.
Israeli media was quick to blast the parade as “propaganda drive” and an act of “psychological warfare”.
During this summer’s war, Hamas fired hundreds of missiles into Israel and managed to reach further north than ever before. In this onslaught, around 2,160 Palestinians – mostly civilians – were been killed and a further 11,000 people injured, according to the United Nations. More than 70 were also killed on the Israeli side, including four civilians, with Israel's newspaper Maarif reporting last week that 500 Israeli soldiers had sustained physical disabilities in the war.
“Hamas was able to stop the ambitions of the Zionist enterprise and because of that, it is today on the verge of collapsing and disappearing," Abu Obaida said.
At the height of the fighting, Hamas hinted that they captured an Israeli soldier during the summer, while Israel said that they seized the body of another soldier during this summer’s fighting.
Traditionally, the two sides have engaged in periodic prisoner swaps, although Israeli lawmakers have this year moved to block the prospect of further prisoner release deals.
However, Abu Obaida stressed to the crowds that a prisoner release would happen soon – and not at a time dictated by the Israelis.
"The hands that voted to approve [the law banning transfers] will be the ones to annul it," he said.
In 2006, Hamas seized Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit during a cross-border raid and managed to secure a prisoner exchange deal in 2011 for 1,027 largely Palestinian prisoners.
Hamas, since its establishment in 1978, has been labeled as a “terrorist organisation" by Israel and most of its Western allies. It was founded by its spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin who was killed in an Israeli military airstrike along with several other Hamas leaders in 2004.
Despite the killing, the movement has continued to increase its popular support and in 2006 managed to secure a majority of votes in the Gaza elections – a development that caused a mass split with the rival Ramallah-based Fatah leadership.
However, the movement, which sees Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as its ideological and strategic ally, has found itself on the defensive since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi launched a widespread crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters and other opposition groups.
Khalil Al-Hayya, a senior Hamas leader and Palestinian Legislative Council member, also addressed the crowds.
“This force that you see is only directed only at the Zionist enemy,” he said, while stressing that Hamas would help to liberate not just Gaza, but also the West Bank and eventually even Jerusalem which is claimed by both sides as their rightful capital.