GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas political leaders and military commanders who have been hiding underground for years gathered Thursday for a military parade in Gaza marking the anniversary of an eight-day battle against Israel last year.
The leaders passed through lines of fighters waving their hands in salute. Women threw flowers and candies over the thousands gathered for the parade from the windows overlooking it. Masked armed men used robes to climb down from high-rise buildings.
In the year since the bruising Israeli offensive, rocket fire from Gaza against Israeli citizens has all but stopped. But a pair of attacks Thursday sparked the Israeli military to launch airstrikes, saying it targeted two concealed rocket launchers in the northern Gaza Strip. Hamas said the Israelis hit empty areas and caused no casualties or damage.
Hamas claimed victory in last year’s battle despite suffering heavy casualties. It is holding celebratory marches this week to mark the anniversary and to vow to continue their violent struggle against Israel.
“Next time you will not enjoy security in any spot on our occupied land,” said Raed Saad, a top Hamas commander appearing in public for the first time in years. “Our fighters are more capable, ready and trained. Our plans are more comprehensive and our arsenal is more developed.”
Last year’s hostilities began on Nov. 14 when Israel assassinated Hamas’ military commander, Ahmad Jabari, over 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 since a three-week Israeli offensive in early 2009. Some 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, and 13 Israelis were killed in that conflict.
While Hamas celebrated Thursday, sewage overflowed into the streets of Gaza just a few miles away. An electricity shortage led to a major spill from a treatment plant, submerging the tires of passing cars and emitting a rancid smell.
Gaza has been enduring fuel and electricity shortages that have caused near-daily power outages. The shortages are due to political infighting, as well as Egypt’s closure of smuggling tunnels along the border with Gaza that provided fuel to the Palestinian territory. Egypt also has halted transfers of Qatari-funded fuel because of militant attacks on Egyptian security forces in the lawless Sinai Peninsula. Higher-priced Israeli fuel transfers are continuing.
Despite its struggles, Hamas maintains a solid grip of power in Gaza, while the rival Fatah movement controls the West Bank. While keeping up tough rhetoric against Israel, Hamas has honored a pledge it made under the cease-fire to halt rocket fire.
The Israeli military says about 50 rockets have been fired into Israel this year, compared to 1,500 the previous year. The few fired have caused little damage, landing in open areas or being intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system.