Hamas stages first West Bank march since 2007, reflecting new popularity
Palestinian supporters of Hamas hold models of M75 long-range rockets during a rally to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Hamas militant group, in the West Bank city of Nablus, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. (AP / Nasser Ishtayeh)
The Associated Press
Published Thursday, December 13, 2012 2:26PM EST
The Islamic militant group Hamas staged on Thursday its first public demonstration in the West Bank since 2007, illustrating its improving ties with the rival Fatah movement after a five-year rift.
The show of force by Hamas reflected the group's popularity in Palestinian society following an eight-day battle against Israel last month and its rising influence as Islamists rise to power across the region.
Hamas said about 5,000 supporters of the Islamic militant group took to the streets in Nablus after prayers Thursday.
Marchers chanted, "Hamas -- you are the guns; we are the bullets," and, "Hamas, fire more rockets on Tel Aviv." Some women held models of the rockets Gaza militants fired at Israeli cities in last month's fighting.
Hamas' influence was also on display in the city of Hebron, where thousands of supporters turned out for the funeral of a teenager killed by Israeli border police officers a day earlier. The police say he brandished a weapon, which later turned out to be fake.
Hamas members have been subjected to both Israeli and Palestinian crackdowns since the Islamic militant group seized power in the Gaza Strip five years ago, leaving the Palestinians' Western-backed president, Mahmoud Abbas, in control only of the West Bank.
But the two rival factions have made gestures toward each other following an eight-day Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip last month and Abbas' successful bid at the United Nations to win international recognition of a de facto Palestinian state.
"Hamas steadfastness and victory in Gaza was a big victory for all Palestinian people," Amin Makboul, a Fatah leader, said in a speech at Thursday's rally in Nablus.
Lack of progress in peace talks with Israel and Hamas' perceived victory in recent fighting has made the Islamic militant group among Palestinians.
Thousands of Palestinians marched through the streets of Hebron on Thursday, chanting anti-Israel slogans and waving green Hamas flags during a funeral procession for a teenager killed a day earlier in this volatile West Bank city.
Dozens of youths clashed with Israeli soldiers throughout the day, throwing stones and bottles. Troops responded with volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets. No serious injuries were reported.
Wednesday's shooting of 17-year-old Mohammed Suleima has raised tensions in Hebron, where several hundred ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers live in heavily fortified enclaves in the midst of more than 180,000 Palestinians.
The shooting occurred near a holy site known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque. Tradition holds that it is the place where their shared patriarch, Abraham, or Ibrahim to Muslims, bought a burial plot.
Israel's paramilitary border police force said officers shot Suleima after he threatened them with a gun that only later turned out to be fake.
The officer said in an Israeli TV interview Thursday that she shot the youth when she saw him pull out a gun and press it to the temple of another officer. The TV report said that Palestinian activists put up posters in Hebron calling on the public to kill her.
Relatives of Suleima said he was unarmed.
Some 5,000 people joined Thursday's funeral procession, praising God and vowing revenge. "Our blood will redeem the martyr," the crowd chanted.
Suleima's body was wrapped in a green Hamas shroud as it was carried on a stretcher through the streets. Dozens of people held green Hamas flags aloft during the procession. Suleima's family is known to support Hamas, and his brother was released last year in a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel that freed an Israeli soldier held for five years in Gaza.