GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Thousands of Hamas security men staged a military parade in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday in a massive show of force marking the anniversary of an eight-day battle against Israel last year.
Despite suffering heavy losses, the Islamic group has claimed victory and vowed Wednesday to continue its violent struggle against Israel.
Hamas' Interior Minister Fathi Hamad, who commands the security forces in the coastal Palestinian strip, called on Arabs in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Israel to unite in a holy war to "uproot the Jews" from Israel.
"A third intifada is approaching," he said, using the term for past Palestinian uprisings against Israel. "Liberation is coming and victory is coming."
The hostilities began when Israel assassinated Hamas' military commander, Ahmad Jabari, on Nov. 14, 2012, in response to an increase in rocket attacks out of Gaza. Over the next week, Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes on militant targets, while Hamas and other armed groups fired hundreds of rockets into Israel.
In all, 161 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians, were killed, while five Israelis died.
It was the fiercest fighting between the bitter enemies since an even more intense three-week Israeli offensive in early 2009. Some 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, and 13 Israelis were killed in that conflict.
The sirens of police cars sounded throughout the city during Wednesday's parade, while military vehicles carried huge posters of Hamas leaders killed by Israel. Police men raised their assault rifles in tribute, and in an attempted show of unity, the forces displayed Palestinian flags, not green Hamas banners.
The smaller Islamic Jihad militant group held its own rally, where 6,000 masked fighters marched through the downtown area. The group displayed various weapons, including rifles, anti-aircraft missile launchers and mobile rocket launchers. In a show of unity, top Hamas military commanders attended the parade.
Hamas has ruled Gaza since ousting the forces of Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, who now governs in the West Bank. The sides have been unable to reconcile, leaving the two Palestinians areas divided between rival governments.
Hamas initially appeared to gain strength after the conflict. The Israeli onslaught failed to weaken the group's military capabilities, and an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire promised greater acceptance of the group and increased movement and trade across their shared border.
But the gains were short lived as a military coup in Egypt ousted the country's Islamist president. The new military government has cracked down on Hamas and closed a system of smuggling tunnels that had been a key lifeline for the group. Gaza is now suffering from high unemployment and painful fuel shortages.
Ashraf Abu Zaed, an organizer of another rally planned Thursday, said the gatherings sent a "clear warning to the occupation leaders that the resistance is ready to protect our people."
On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited troops stationed along the southern border with Gaza, where he boasted of a 98 percent drop in militant rocket fire over the past year.
"There is no doubt that significant deterrence has been achieved," Netanyahu said. "However, we are not deluding ourselves. We know that Hamas and the other terrorist organizations are continuing to arm themselves in various ways."