Hamas chief attacks Israel on Gaza visit

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HAMAS leader Khaled ­Meshaal, making his first visit to the Gaza Strip, vowed yesterday never to recognise ­Israel and said his Islamist group would never abandon its claim to all Israeli territory.

“Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land,” he told supporters at an open-air rally, the highlight of his three-day stay in Gaza.

“We will never recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take.”

In an uncompromising speech, Meshaal also vowed to free Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, indicating Islamist militants would try to kidnap Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips.

Israel last year released 1,027 Palestinians from its jails in return for the liberation of Gilad Shalit, a conscript who was seized by Palestinian guerrillas in 2006 and hidden for more than five years in Gaza. Thousands of Palestinian detainees remain in Israel. The Jewish state says many of them are terrorists while Hamas calls them freedom fighters.

“We will not rest until we liberate the prisoners. The way we freed some of the prisoners in the past is the way we will use to free the remaining prisoners,” Meshaal said to cheers from the huge crowd.

Meshaal was born in the West Bank but has lived most of his life in exile. He entered Gaza on Friday to attend yesterday’s rally, which marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas.

Thousands of supporters, many holding aloft the green flag of the Islamist group, gathered on rain-sodden wasteland ahead of the rally.

Patriotic music blasted from loudspeakers, including the recent hit Strike a Blow at Tel Aviv. The song refers to rockets Hamas fired at the Israeli city in last month’s eight-day conflict. A huge model of the Gaza-made M75 missile that took aim at both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem dominated the outdoor stage.

“This is a day of victory,” said Ahmed Shaheen, 60, sitting with his young children in front of the massive platform. “The presence of Khaled Meshaal is a sign of this victory.” Meshaal, 56, was moved to tears on Friday by the ecstatic reception he received from flag-waving crowds as he toured the tiny territory, which is home to around 1.7 million Palestinians.