Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians gather in Gaza City commemorating the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas and to hear from Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal.

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Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians gathered in Gaza City today commemorating the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas and to hear from Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal.

Laying out his hopes for future triumphant visits, Mr Meshaal told cheering crowds, "Today is Gaza. Tomorrow will be Ramallah and after that Jerusalem, then Haifa and Jaffa," Ma'an News Agency reported.

Mr Meshaal referred to the Gaza visit as his "third birth"; his second birth, he said, was surviving an Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997.

"I pray to God that my fourth birth will come the day we liberate Palestine," he added, according to the Ma'an New Agency.

Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Mr Meshaal entered the stage from a door set into a large model of an M75 rocket, of the type Hamas militants fired at Israeli cities during recent fighting.

25th anniversary 'special'

Hamas supporters, waving green Hamas flags and chanting Hamas slogans, braved the rain to attend the event.

"The 25th anniversary of Hamas, this time is something special. It comes after winning the resistance in the last war. Also, for the first time Mr Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas chief, is participating in this celebration," Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas spokesman said.

The Hamas anniversary comes two weeks after the bloodiest round of Israel-Gaza fighting in four years.

Hamas has portrayed itself as the victor of the eight-day conflict despite heavy Israeli airstrikes. The fighting ended with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on 21 November that stipulated Israel would stop targeting militants.

Israel disputes this, saying it killed the Islamist group's military commander and caused significant damage to its arsenal of rockets. The story was displayed prominently in the Jerusalem Post today, but there was no comment from Israeli leaders.

Boost from the Muslim Brotherhood

Hamas has received a boost from the rise of its parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, following Arab Spring revolts - especially in Egypt.

It was Mr Meshaal's first visit to Gaza. The 56-year-old left the West Bank as a child and now leads Hamas from the Gulf state of Qatar.

More than 1,000 Hamas supporters from Muslim and European countries attended Saturday's rally, some waving Turkish, Indonesian, Algerian and other flags representing their home countries.

Mr Meshaal made the visit without fear. He has received a hero's welcome after decades in exile. The Israeli media largely ignored his visit to Gaza.

"Israel must now be fuming as it watches this Gaza victory," said Abu Waleed, 52, as he stood in a crowd on Friday, waiting to catch a glimpse of Meshaal, who survived a 1997 assassination attempt by Israeli Mossad agents in Jordan.