Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said on Thursday that Israel's pullout from Gaza is a step toward evacuating the West Bank and Jerusalem.
"After 38 years of ugly occupation, they are leaving and they will never come back," Qureia said to the some 10,000 Palestinians gathered at a mass rally in the Parliament building in Gaza City in celebration Israel's upcoming withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Israel says its unilateral pullout from Gaza is meant to increase its security and stabilize its control of West Bank settlements. Palestinian militants say they are driving Israel out of Gaza, while the Palestinian Authority says the pullout is a victory for its policy of negotiating with Israel.
The stage at the celebration Thursday was decorated with a large picture of Gaza and the Mediterranean Sea, along with images of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and a masked Palestinian militant carrying a rifle.
Palestinian officials have urged militants to refrain from attacking the Israel Defense Forces and the departing settlers during the withdrawal. "The world is watching us to see how we are going to behave," Qureia said. "We promise to convey a civilized image for our people."
Qureia said the pullout was a major accomplishment for the Palestinians that would eventually lead them to their dream of a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
"The West Bank today is closer than before. The evacuation of Gaza, their departure, is a step toward Jerusalem. There is no other alternative. We are moving to Jerusalem and toward all the occupied Palestinian territories," he told the people at the rally, who had been bused in from Rafah, Khan Younis and northern Gaza.
As Queria delivered his 45 minute speech, dozens of gunmen from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militant group loosely affiliated with Queria's Fatah movement, fired in the air, and men and women performed traditional Palestinian dances.
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