Palestinian Hamas supporters in Hebron in the West Bank wave flags during… (Abed Al Hashlamoun / European…)
RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Thousands of Hamas activists Friday participated in mass rallies in several West Bank cities marking 25 years for the launch of the Islamist movement.
It was the second day of public demonstrations, ending a five-year ban on such gatherings.
The Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank, allowed its archrival Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, to hold anniversary celebrations in Ramallah, Hebron and Tulkarm in the West Bank.
The break in relations between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas dates to 2007, when Hamas' armed group forced Palestinian Authority forces and their Fatah allies to flee the Gaza Strip, then took over the seaside enclave.
As a result, the Palestinian Authority outlawed Hamas' military wing, the Izzeddin al-Qassam Brigades, closed Hamas offices in the West Bank and banned all public activities by the group.
The two sides held several rounds of talks aimed at ending their feud and reuniting the West Bank and Gaza Strip, without tangible results.
A turn in their relations occurred after eight days of Israeli air attacks on Gaza last month, and the Palestinian Authority’s success in becoming a nonmember observer state at the United Nations.
The two Palestinian factions agreed to allow more freedom of action for their respective groups in the areas each side controls, a move that had upset Israel and its allies, which consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas' leader, said Friday that the scenes of Hamas activists holding rallies in the West Bank brought hope of reconciliation and an end to division.
Speakers at the rallies in Ramallah and Tulkarm attended by Fatah officials also stressed reconciliation.
Fatah is expected to hold its own 48th anniversary celebration in the Gaza Strip on Jan. 1, which Hamas agreed to in return for the Palestinian Authority's allowing Hamas rallies in the West Bank.
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