Tens of thousands of Palestinians joined a mass rally in Gaza City on Friday to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Jihad movement, and the death of its founder.
(AhlulBayt News Agency) - Waving black banners, men, women, and children streamed for hours into into Kuteiba Square in central Gaza City, to hear speeches praising the resistance, and the stance of the Islamist party.
Dedicated to the memory of Islamic Jihad founder Fathi Shaqaqi, who was assassinated in Malta on 26 October 1995 by suspected Israeli agents, speeches postured the leader alongside central figures in the Palestinian struggle.
Senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials spoke at the event, with Hamas leader Khalil Al-Haya saying the two groups represented "the heart of the resistance."
Secretary general of the movement Ramadan Abadallah Shallah was the principal speaker, delivering his message in a pre-recorded tape, warning of a third Nakba if the peace talks failed, equating the level of disaster with the Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948, and the fall-off of resistance movements in the 1990s following the Oslo Accords.
"Why this strange insistence of the Palestinian Authority on talks?" Shallah asked, calling for a full withdrawal from talks and calling the continued discussions a "big conspiracy" with Israel, which would only succeed in a unified Palestinian front rejecting Israeli fragmentation efforts.
The party's politbureau member Mohammad Al-Hindi said resistance was the only option, and in order to guarantee freedom, the "PA, appointed under the Oslo Accords," would have to be dismantled, adding that the government body "restricts our liberty and freedoms."
"Jihad is the fate of this nation there is no other option but this one," he said, quoting the movement's founder.
The crowd sat on several thousand plastic chairs set up for the event, while hundreds more stood in the square draped with banners depicting Shaqaqi alongside other deceased leaders of the Palestinian cause, including Yasser Arafat and Ahmad Yassin of Hamas. On one banner, the skyline of Jerusalem appeared, showing not only the minarets of mosques but also a church steeple.
Considered more radical than Hamas, Islamic Jihad has nonetheless honored past ceasefires with Israel, and there are signs that the group is acting to restrain certain unauthorized attacks from Gaza. The group was responsible for a number of suicide bombings in Israel during the Second Intifada. Like Hamas, the group was opposed to the Oslo peace negotiations, but unlike Hamas it has refused to participate in Palestinian Authority elections.
Jihad holds out for historic lands of Palestine
Speaking with Ma'an before the rally, senior Islamic Jihad leader Khaled Al-Batsh said: "Our clear message on this day, this Islamic Jihad day, is that we continue asking for all Palestine, to liberate Palestine from the occupation, and to achieve state in Palestine, to be free, and to live like all the people in the world.
"We want our rights, to bring back the refugees," he said. "We say to the international community that we gave the Israelis a chance to be there in Palestine, now we're calling on international society to help our people to return to our homes.
"For the Palestinian Authority, they must stop negotiations with the Israeli side, because the Israeli side did not give them anything through peace negotiation," he added. "For 20 years, the Israelis didn't give Abu Mazen [President Mahmoud Abbas] and the PNA anything for their rights, because Israeli continued their settlements, continued to be aggressive with our people. With negotiations we are sure that Israel will not give us anything.
"It is our right to continue the resistance," Al-Batsh said, "because of support from international law, and also from the Qur'an, and the Bible, and the Torah."
Asked whether Islamic Jihad would resume attacks inside Israel, Al-Batsh said, "Israel is always being aggressive and killing our people. So our resistance is a response to Israeli crimes here. So if Israel comes and says 'we are going to end our occupation,' after that we can talk."
"Before Israel ends the occupation, we cannot say any word to them except 'they must leave our territories."