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Middle East

Hamas stages West Bank rally

Hamas has staged a rally in the West Bank, the territory governed by its Palestinian political rival group, Fatah. It's the first time that Hamas has been able to do so in five years.

Hamas, the Islamist organization that governs the Gaza Strip, staged its first rally in the West Bank in years on Thursday.

Celebrating the political group's 25th anniversary, thousands of supporters waved green flags could in the northern city of Nablus. An AFP correspondent put the number at a minimum of 5,000.

It was the first rally that the group has staged in the West Bank since the ruling Palestinian Authority (PA), controlled by Hamas' political rival Fatah, banned Hamas demonstrations in June 2007.

Reconciliation in sight?

The development comes as Hamas and Fatah make tentative steps towards reconciliation after years of tension. Their troubled relationship can be traced, in the short term, back to 2007 when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority.

The two side drew up a reconciliation plan last year, outlining a 12-month roadmap to legislative and presidential elections; but its implementation subsequently stalled.

The violence between Israel and Gaza in November brought a renewed push for improved ties. Hamas leaders Khaled Mashaal and his counterpart for the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas, have both said in recent weeks that they want to kick start reconciliation.

At Thursday's rally, top Fatah officials took part and speeches emphasized the need to reunite the West Bank and Gaza.

In return for the rally in Nablus, Hamas has pledged to let Fatah hold an anniversary celebration in the Gaza Strip on January 1.

sej/msh (dpa, AFP)