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West Bank welcomes Hamas back with excitement - and apprehension

Still riding a wave of popularity after the Gaza war, Hamas held celebratory rallies throughout the West Bank. But worries about a return to the chaos and violence of the intifada are bubbling up.

By Correspondent / December 14, 2012

A Palestinian boy is thrown in in the air as Hamas supporters wave flags during a rally in the West Bank city of Hebron, marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Islamist militant group December 14, 2012. It was one of the first rallies Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas allowed to take place in the West Bank since 2007, when his Islamist rivals Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip.

Ammar Awad/REUTERS

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Nablus, West Bank

Hamas, long suppressed in the West Bank because of its feud with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, staged comeback parties in several cities here over the last two days in celebration of its 25th anniversary and victory in last month’s Gaza war.    

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For the first time in five years, thousands of Hamas supporters flooded central Nablus yesterday, waving green Islamist banners and miniature rockets symbolizing those fired from Gaza at Israeli cities, giving voice to fiery rhetoric not heard in this town since the second intifada of the early 2000s.

"We will pledge to purify our people from all Zionist rhetoric," shouted a speaker in Nablus yesterday. "Your objective: resistance. Your leaders: Hamas. Your wish: to die in the name of God… Create a volcano among the Israelis."

Yesterday's demonstration, together with similar celebrations sanctioned by Mr. Abbas’ government planned for today in Ramallah and Hebron, signal just how much Hamas’s stature in the region has grown since the war, which lifted Palestinian morale and even spurred new hopes for a political reconciliation between long feuding Fatah and Hamas. Such rallies would have previously been shut down by Palestinian security forces.

But the Islamist renewal in the West Bank has also been accompanied by an uptick in clashes with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), spurring questions in Israel about whether the sides have reached the threshold of a new Palestinian uprising. Some analysts believe years of calm and stability in the West Bank are coming to an end.  

Around the same time as the Nablus demonstration, hundreds of Palestinian youth in Hebron clashed with Israeli soldiers after the funeral of a local teenager who was killed by the IDF two days ago. According to the army, the minor attacked a solder with a fake gun, which a second soldier who opened fire believed to be real. Israel Radio reported today that security forces were bracing themselves for a new round of clashes following weekly prayer services.

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