Hamas Rally Tests Palestinian Unity

RAMALLAH (Reuters) -

More than a thousand supporters of Hamas marched through the streets of Ramallah, a stronghold of its rival Fatah party on Wednesday, testing the unity pact the two signed last week.

The rally in Ramallah, the Palestinians’ de facto capital, followed a funeral in the city’s main mosque for Hamas terrorists killed by Israel in 1998. Their bodies were released from Israeli custody this week.

Wednesday’s funeral was one of the largest gatherings by Hamas in Ramallah since the two parties came to blows in 2007, when the Islamists seized Gaza. Mutual suspicion between the two groups, and arrests, became commonplace thereafter.

“I’m guardedly optimistic,” Aziz Dweik, the Hamas speaker of the long-defunct Palestinian parliament, told Reuters at the funeral. “But the gap between the two sides remains wide, and their agendas remain different.”

Uniformed and plainclothes Palestinian forces kept a close eye on the marchers, some of them wearing masks, as chants rang out of “Revenge!” and “Strike Tel Aviv!”

Fatah supporters passed out leaflets among the crowd, cautioning, “Let there not be any excuse to divide members of the united Palestinian family. We live now in an atmosphere of reconciliation.”