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Palestinian party Fatah celebrates 48th year with rally, hinting it, Hamas hatred waning

| Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, 7:42 p.m.
Palestinians wave yellow Fatah flags during celebrations marking the 48th anniversary of the Fatah movement in Gaza City, Friday, Jan. 4, 2013. The secular-leaning Fatah party staged a massive rally Friday in the Gaza Strip, the first such gathering in the territory since the Islamist Hamas group violently took control there in 2007 - a reflection of the warming ties between the two rival Palestinian factions.(AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

JERUSALEM — The Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held a rally in Gaza on Friday to mark the 48th anniversary of its founding — the first such gathering permitted by Hamas since it seized control of the territory in a brief civil war in 2007.

“We feel like birds freed from our cage today,” said Fadwa Taleb, 46, who worked as a police officer for Fatah before the Hamas takeover and attended the rally with her family. “We are happy and feel powerful again.”

The rally was another sign of thawing relations between the factions since November, when Israel began a military offensive to halt rocket fire from Gaza and Abbas won limited recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.

Hamas has enjoyed a surge of popularity among Palestinians because it was able to fire rockets deep into Israel during the recent conflict. Fatah has been buoyed by the U.N.'s statehood vote, spurring renewed moves to carry out a stalled reconciliation accord signed by the factions in 2011.

Hamas granted permission for the Fatah rally in Gaza because it was allowed to hold two rallies last month in the West Bank, parts of which are controlled by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. Since their split, each faction had banned public gatherings by its rival.

On Friday, tens of thousands of people, many waving yellow Fatah banners, gathered in Saraya Square in Gaza City in what witnesses described as a carnival atmosphere. Crowds had camped overnight to ensure themselves a spot, and the throng included many families with children.

The jostling crowd surged onto a stage, where Fatah leaders were assembled. The ensuing chaos forced organizers to cut the gathering short after Abbas gave a video address from his headquarters in Ramallah.

Abbas told the crowd that “soon we will regain our unity,” which he called “a step on the way to ending the (Israeli) occupation.”

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