GAZA CITY, Palestine: Hamas held Thursday its first public rally since a cease-fire with Israel, vowing to never give up its arms and to continue to fight for the lifting of the blockade of Gaza.
The uncompromising rhetoric of the official, Mushir al-Masri, came on the third and final day of a truce in the monthlong Israel-Hamas war and at a time when the militant group and other Palestinian factions are in Cairo indirectly negotiating with Israel for a permanent cease-fire and steps to lift the seven-year-old blockade of the coastal strip by Israel and Egypt.
Unlike Hamas rallies on previous occasions, only several thousand showed up for the event in the heart of Gaza City.
The modest turnout was not necessarily a sign of waning support for the group, but most likely a reflection of the fatigue felt by most of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents after four weeks of a ruinous war, as well as anxiety over whether the three-day truce will be extended.
Cairo is mediating indirect talks between Israel and Hamas on extending the 72-hour cease-fire that expires Friday morning. Hamas has demanded the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed on the coastal territory after the militant Islamist group seized power in 2007.
Israel has said the militants must disarm first, which Masri insisted was out of the question.
“The war is not over yet. Our men are still in the field, manning forward positions, our fingers are on the trigger, and our rockets are trained on Tel Aviv, Lod and beyond,” he said.
“It is out of the question that the weapons of the resistance should be on the negotiating table,” the Hamas official said.
“They have not been put on the table and, God willing, they will never be.”
Masri insisted fighters are “in good shape” despite four weeks of fighting and still had tunnels extending into Israel that could be used for attacks if Hamas’ demands are not met.