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By Robert Berger
Jerusalem
15 December 2007

The Islamic militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip has put on a show of strength. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, Hamas is sending a tough message of opposition to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which resumed this week after a seven-year break.

Chanting "Allah is great," tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered in Gaza City to mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Islamic militant group Hamas.

It was a defiant show of support, even though Gaza has plunged further into poverty under Hamas rule and there are shortages of food, raw materials and fuel. Hamas has been crippled by Israeli and international sanctions since it violently seized control of Gaza six months ago.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh next to poster of late Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin, during rally in Gaza city, 15 Dec 2007<br />
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh next to poster of late Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin, during rally in Gaza city, 15 Dec 2007
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told the crowd that the group will never renounce violence or recognize Israel.

Mr. Haniyeh said jihad, or holy war, is the shortest way to liberate Palestine and Jerusalem. He also condemned the Annapolis peace conference in the United States, where western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to resume peace talks with Israel.

Hamas routed the Fatah forces of Mr. Abbas from Gaza in June, and now he heads a more moderate government in the West Bank.

Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have agreed to try and reach a final peace treaty by the end of next year, but Hamas poses a major obstacle. At Annapolis, Mr. Olmert said Israel would not agree to a Palestinian state unless it includes Gaza under the control of Palestinian moderates.

By bringing a huge crowd into the streets, Hamas has shown it is a force to reckon with and that it intends to remain in power.

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