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Palestinians mark anniversary of Arafat's death in Gaza

Residents of Gaza have commemorated the 13th anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, founder of the Fatah movement. Organisers hailed the event as a national day of unity.

Residents of Gaza have joined commemorations marking the 13th anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

This is the first time in 10 years that the anniversary of the death of the founder of the Fatah movement has been celebrated in Hamas-governed Gaza.

Organisers promoted the event as a national day of unity.

Many hope a recent agreement signed by opposing parties Fatah and Hamas will end their rivalry.

The deal, which is designed to see Hamas hand civil control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority led by current Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas by December 1, could end years of rivalry between the two parties.

Tens of thousands of people from across the Gaza Strip poured into Saraya Square in Gaza City from early morning, hours before the keynote speeches were due to be delivered.

Tawfiq Abu Naim, a member of Hamas and head of internal security forces in Gaza, said the security forces are tasked to protect and support Saturday's commemoration, which he described as a "festival of unity".

Organisers said more than 100,000 people were in attendance.

Participants waved Palestinian flags and placards calling for unity, as well as pictures of both Arafat and Abbas.

In a pre-recorded speech broadcast on large screens, Abbas hailed his predecessor's legacy.

"Our Palestinian people, who have always loved you as a great leader, still have that love, respect and loyalty."

Abbas said the Palestinians were pushing ahead to seal reconciliation and to achieve Arafat's "dream... for freedom, sovereignty and independence on our Palestinian national soil".

"There is no state in Gaza, and there is no state without Gaza," he said, stressing that the Palestinian people were "united" and "refuse divisions".

Israel has occupied the Palestinian territories since 1967.

Gaza is waiting

Participants at the rally also said the event underlined the need, now more than ever, for Palestinians to unite.

"Today is a day for loyalty, unity and reconciliation. We say to the president and the government: Your sons in Fatah are waiting for your support of Gaza," said 20-year-old Shukri Antar.

Rania Barbekh, 50, who was carrying a Fatah flag and a picture of Abbas, said she and her son had arrived at the square at 7am from their home in Khan Yunis in the south of the Gaza Strip.

"We are all with Abu Ammar," she said, referring to Arafat by his Arabic nickname. "From this festival, we want Fatah and Hamas to unite against the enemy", referring to the ongoing Israeli occupation.

Fatah has held other events in Gaza since 2007, including a major celebration in 2013.

On Thursday, several thousand people attended a smaller Arafat anniversary event in Gaza organised by Fatah.

On Friday, hundreds of people took part in a "national unity marathon" organised by the Palestine Athletic Federation to support reconciliation between the two political parties.


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