NABLUS, West Bank (AP) — 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.
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