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In Show of Unity, Hundreds of Thousands Rally in Gaza

Fatah event in Hamas-controlled Gaza hailed as 'a step on the road to restoring national unity'

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

In their first mass gathering in Gaza since 2007, hundreds of thousands of Fatah supporters rallied on Friday in celebration of the 48th anniversary of taking up arms against Israel.

Supporters waved the distinctive black and yellow flags of Fatah and carried pictures of current President Mahmoud Abbas, an Agence France Presse correspondent reports.

"Gaza was the first Palestinian territory rid of [Israeli] occupation and settlement and we want a lifting of the blockade so that it can be free and linked to the rest of the nation," said President Abbas, whose authority has been limited to the Israeli-occupied West Bank since the 2007 conflict between Fatah and Hamas, in a short televised speech.

Hamas, who permitted the rally to take place in the territory, congratulated Fatah on the anniversary in a statement, saying it considered it a "celebration of national unity and a success for Hamas as well as Fatah."

"This positive atmosphere is a step on road to restoring national unity," they added.

Relations between the Palestinian rivals have 'thawed somewhat' since Israel's assault on Gaza assault in November. "Hamas was allowed to hold its first West Bank rallies since the 2007 split in which Hamas seized Gaza and Fatah was left in control of the West Bank. Hamas returned the favor Friday by allowing the Fatah rally," the Associated Press reports.

Al Jazeera adds, "the moves appear to be an attempt by the two sides to mend relations after years of division and mistrust" following a brutal falling out more than five years ago.

The anniversary commemorates the first operation against Israel claimed by Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) armed wing then known as al-Assifa (Arabic for "the Thunderstorm") in 1965.

In addition to the celebrations in Gaza, Associated Press reports that Abbas signed a presidential decree changing the name of the Palestinian Authority to the "State of Palestine":

According to the decree, reported by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa Thursday night, all stamps, signs, and official letterhead will be changed to bear the new name.

It is the first concrete, albeit symbolic, step the Palestinians have taken following the November decision by the United Nations [to upgrade their status to a non-member observer state].



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