Leaders of the Islamist movement Hamas swore defiance in a choreographed display of force on Wednesday as one of the most hardline right-wing governments in Israel’s history looks set to take office later this month.
Speaking before a sea of green flags in Gaza City’s Katiba gardens at a rally to mark Hamas’ 35th anniversary, the movement’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Al-Sinwar said Palestinians faced an “open confrontation” with Israel.
He said the al-Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem, a site revered by both Muslims and Jews, who know it as the Temple Mount, was threatened with encroachment by the “Talmudic, fascist, Zionist, rightist government” and said Hamas would respond with force.
“We will come to you with an endless number of rockets, we will come to you with an endless number of soldiers,” he said, accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition with hardline religious parties of seeking a “religious war”.
The rally, after a year that has seen some of the worst violence in the occupied West Bank in more than a decade and a brief conflict in Gaza, comes as Netanyahu prepares to take office at the head of a coalition uniting his Likud party with a clutch of hardline religious parties.
Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters filled the square, as solemn music boomed out over loudspeakers and black uniformed members of the movement’s armed wing marched through the crowd.
Born out of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in the late 1980s, Hamas assumed power in Gaza after defeating the rival Fatah movement in elections in 2006 and has maintained a steadfast hostility to Israel.
But ever since it fought a 10-day war with Israel that ended in a ceasefire more than a year ago, relations between the two sides on the ground have been, if not tranquil, then at least under a wary sort of control.
Sinwar said the movement had been restrained by the need to rebuild after the 2021 war.
“Our silence is preparation and if we talk, it will be guns talking on our behalf,” he said.
Despite the West Bank violence that has claimed at least 165 Palestinian lives, Hamas has not intervened and it remained quiet in August when Israeli jets bombarded sites connected with the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group in Gaza.
However its greatest challenge remains at home, where it is under increasing pressure to improve the quality of life for the 2.3 million Palestinians crammed into Gaza, under blockade for the past 15 years from both Israel and neighbouring Egypt and facing an unemployment rate of 50%.
“We admire the resistance but as a ruler, Hamas needs to find a solution to our misery that doesn’t worsen it,” said Abu Ali, owner of a clothes shop in Gaza city.