GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh greeted thousands of Palestinians in a central Gaza square on Wednesday in a massive victory rally following the signing of a long-term ceasefire that concluded 50 days of intense conflict with Israel.
The speech followed the release of polls earlier in the day showing widespread belief in Gaza that the Palestinian military resistance had increased its deterrence capacity and overwhelming support for the firing of rockets into Israel.
In his speech, Haniyeh hailed the people of Gaza and the resistance forces for their steadfastness in the fight against Israel, which claimed the lives of more than 2,100 Palestinians — the overwhelming majority of whom were civilians — and left 64 Israeli soldiers dead, in addition to six civilians in Israel.
“Those whose blood was spilled and the martyrs were the fuel of this victory,” Haniyeh said during the rally, emphasizing to the crowd of thousands that the resistance had been preparing for the battle for years.
“It is not possible to express this victory with words and speeches,” he added.
“The victory is beyond the limits of time and place. This battle is a war that lacks a precedent in the history of conflict with the enemy,” he said, stressing that the group was preparing for the “ultimate battle” for the liberation of Palestine.
“The war began with fire on Haifa and ended with fire on Haifa,” he told the crowd, highlighting the fact that Hamas had managed to fight throughout the seven-week Israeli assault and emerged with its military strength intact.
“The Palestinians who couldn’t celebrate Eid al-Fitr because of the fighting and because they were on the battlefield, today celebrate the celebration of victory.”
Hamas spokesman Abu Ubaida also gave a speech in Gaza on Wednesday night, arguing that the conflict had shown the need to “completely revise the methods of national struggle.”
“Negotiations are not enough with these occupiers,” he told a large crowd gathered in Gaza City’s eastern Shujaiyya neighborhood, which was devastated during the Israeli ground assault.
“Resistance unified the people, and that is our big achievement,” he added. “We will not return to divisions or disputes.”
“The resistance forced the ceasefire out of its enemy and did not allow them any strategic or tactical achievements,” he continued. “It crushed its pride that has been fabricated for decades through media outlets, and laboratories of psychological warfare.”
He also stressed that his was not a “victory speech,” adding: “Our appointment with the victory speech will be in the courtyards of the Al-Aqsa Mosque (in Jerusalem). This is merely an inevitable step along the way.”
Hamas has hailed the conflict with Israel as a victory for the group and the Palestinian resistance more broadly, stressing that Gaza is coming out of the battle having gained concessions from Israel while Israel has not managed to dent its military power.
Israeli authorities said at the beginning of the assault that their goals were to end rocket fire and later added the destruction of tunnels underneath Gaza that it said would be used to launch attacks into Israel.
Although the Israeli government says it destroyed all the tunnels, Palestinian militant groups dispute this. Rocket fire, meanwhile, continued into Israel until the final moments of the conflict.
The long-term ceasefire agreement, meanwhile, promises a gradual easing of the Israeli-imposed economic blockade of Gaza, which Israel has maintained with Egyptian support since 2007.
Although the Palestinian delegation team stressed the need for the re-opening of the airport and seaport in Gaza, these demands will be discussed further in a new round of talks next month.
Israel’s primary demand — for a disarmament of Gaza militant groups — has not been realized.
Strong belief in increased deterrence
The speeches come hours after an opinions poll released by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion showed a widespread belief in Gaza the deterrence capacity of the Palestinian resistance groups following the conflict.
More than 75 percent of Palestinians surveyed in the poll, which was conducted from August 14-19 among 1,000 adult respondents across Gaza, thought that as a result of the conflict Palestinian militant groups had an increased deterrence capability.
This belief was reinforced by a tremendous rise in support for the firing of rockets into Israel, which the poll showed was supported by an overwhelming 88.9 percent of respondents, a nearly 100 percent increase over a Jan. 2013 poll which showed only 49 percent support.
Israel’s military strategy toward Gaza has relied on the use of massive military force to cow the population at large and diminish support for Hamas, but the poll results suggest that the Palestinian population has instead rallied around the armed resistance groups.
Despite the heavy civilian casualties suffered in Gaza — the UN estimates that 70 percent of the more than 2,100 dead have been civilians — many Palestinians were surprised by the effectiveness of Hamas fighting capabilities during the seven-week long conflict.
The Israeli military suffered its highest casualty rate since it attempted to invade Lebanon in 2006, while Hamas launched cross-border raids targeting military sites in addition to firing rockets into distant cities like Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa on a regular basis.
The poll also showed mild support for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s performance during the operation, with 54 percent saying they approved while more than 38 percent expressing disapproval.
Although Abbas was criticized for failing to act in the early weeks of the bombardment, the PA’s involvement in indirect long-term negotiations with Israel in Cairo provides a possible explanation for the general approval.
The United Nations Relief and Work Agency, which offered refuge to around 485,000 Palestinians displaced by the fighting, also enjoyed widespread approval, with more than 71 percent saying the agency had done a “good” job.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, however, came out of the conflict with extremely low levels of approval, with nearly 65 percent rating his performance negative, 17 percent positive, and 13.5 percent “balanced.”