Gazans celebrate 25th anniversary of Hamas with rally

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GAZA CITY -- The leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas vowed to continue fighting Israel yesterday, as hundreds of thousands of flag-waving Gazans turned out to celebrate the organization's 25th anniversary.

Khaled Mashaal's visit to the Palestinian territory -- a first in his lifetime of exile -- underscores Hamas' rising clout and regional acceptance since its eight-day conflict with Israel last month.

At the main stage in Gaza City, a roaring crowd greeted Mashaal and Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who emerged from a door built into a large model of a rocket fired at Israeli cities during the recent fighting.

Hamas' green dominated the gathering, where some children wore military uniforms and others carried guns. Masked gunmen holding automatic rifles flanked the podium where Mashaal gave a fiery speech.

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"We are not giving up any inch of Palestine. It will remain Islamic and Arab for us and nobody else. Jihad and armed resistance is the only way," Mashaal said, referring to holy war. "We cannot recognize Israel's legitimacy." Mashaal said he would continue to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails -- referring to a swap last year where an abducted Israeli soldier was exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Israel, the United States and European Union list Hamas as a terrorist organization. Israel is now holding indirect talks with the group as a result of the cease-fire arrangement.

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