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Thousands of Palestinians mark Hamasī 16th birthday (AFP-FRANCE PRESSE) GAZA CITY 12/19/03 12:18 PM ET) Source: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=1515&ncid=1515&e=5&u=/afp/20031219/wl_mideast_afp/mideast_palestinian_031219171856
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GAZA CITY (AFP) - Braving torrential rain, thousands of sympathizers of the hardline Palestinian Islamic group Hamas took to the streets to mark the groupīs 16th birthday.
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Waving Hamasī trademark green flags and other Palestinian flags, the marchers converged on the town centre just after midday prayer, among them several masked men wearing military fatigues and carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles.
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Others bore five black coffins on their shoulders, upon which were written the names of numerous failed Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
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Loud-speakers mounted on pickup trucks blared a list of all the "martyred" Hamas members, along with songs exalting the merits of "jihad", the Arabic for holy war.
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"Jihad is our way and the Qoran is our doctrine," cried the demonstrators.
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The march, dubbed "Hamasī volcano" ended in one of the cityīs main squares, where the groupīs top leaders gave speeches in honour of the movementīs creation in December 1987.
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"We will not let certain individuals assume the right to decide on the fate of the Palestinian people," Abdelaziz Rantissi told the crowd, referring to the promoters of the unofficial peace plan, the Geneva Initiative, dubbed the "document of shame".
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"We say to (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon that the raids against our houses and cars donīt scare us and we vow before God to pursue the fight," he added.
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Rantissi also heaped scorn on the United States, which he slammed as "the enemy of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian cause, the Arab peoples and Islam".
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Mahmud al-Zahar, another senior official, told AFP Hamas "would not allow a single inch of Palestine to be pawned off.
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"We refuse to make any concessions over our holy places and our national rights. We are in favour of jihad and martyrdom," said Zahar, who survived an Israeli assasination attempt in September.
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Hamas, which does not recognize Israelīs right to exist, has carried out most of the anti-Israeli attacks, including suicide bombings, since the beginning of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000.
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The group was founded in December 1987 in Gaza, which has remained its stronghold and where its top officials, including spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, are based.
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On Thursday, Yassin dismissed a plan for unilateral disengagement proposed by Sharon as a "delusion" designed to trick the international community.
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"Itīs a delusion to fool the world that he is a man of peace," he said.
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"He does not want peace. Someone who wants peace does not lie and does not offer scraps (to the Palestinians). Someone who wants peace would end the occupation of the Palestinian people," he added. (Copyright Đ 2003 Agence France Presse. 12/19/03)
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