Hamas Leader Makes First Public Appearance Amid Defiant Military Rally in Gaza

As Islamic movement claims victory over Israel, Yahya Sinwar – who went into hiding during the fighting – makes his first public appearance since the flare-up began at the mourning tent of senior commander Bassem Issa

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Yahya Sinwar (R), leader of the Palestinian Hamas movement, is greeted by supporters in Gaza City on May 22, 2021, as he arrives to pay condolences to top Hamas commander Bassem Issa who was killed along others in Israeli airstrikes
Yahya Sinwar (R), leader of the Palestinian Hamas movement, is greeted by supporters in Gaza City on May 22, 2021, as he arrives to pay condolences to top Hamas commander Bassem Issa who was killed alCredit: HATEM RAWAGH - AFP

Masked Hamas fighters brandishing assault rifles paraded in Gaza City and the group’s top leader made his first public appearance on Saturday, in a defiant show of victory after the militants' 11-day war with Israel.

Dozens of Hamas fighters wearing military camouflage paraded past the mourning tent for Bassem Issa, a senior commander killed in the fighting. The top Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, paid his respects in his first public appearance since the war began almost two weeks ago. 

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The show of force came as Egyptian mediators held talks to firm up the truce which ended the fourth Israel-Hamas war in just over a decade. 

In Gaza City, residents began assessing damage.

A boy rides his bicycle between members of Al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian Hamas group, during a march in Gaza City todayCredit: EMMANUEL DUNAND - AFP

Gaza City's busiest commercial area, Omar al-Mukhtar Street, was covered in debris, smashed cars and twisted metal after a 13-floor building in its center was flattened in an Israeli airstrike. Merchandise was covered in soot and strewn inside smashed stores and on the pavement. Municipal workers swept broken glass and twisted metal from streets and sidewalks.

“We really didn’t expect this amount of damage," said Ashour Subeih, who sells baby clothes. “We thought the strike was a bit further from us. But as you can see not an area of the shop is intact.” Having been in business for one year, Subeih estimated his losses were double what he has made so far.

Drone video and photos showed some city blocks reduced to rubble, in between homes and businesses left standing.

Sinwar alongside Bassem Issa's son, Imad, on Saturday.Credit: Msdr news

Both Israel and Hamas have claimed victory.

The organization's senior leadership went into hiding during the fighting, while Israel bombed the house of Sinwar, along with that of other senior Hamas figures, as part of its attack on what it said was the group's military infrastructure. Israel's defense minister, Benny Gantz, has said top Hamas figures remained targets.

Palestinians carry the bodies of members of the armed wing of the Hamas movement, who died in Israeli bombardment of a tunnel, during their funeral in Khan Younis, yesterdayCredit: SAID KHATIB - AFP

Israel bombed the house of Sinwar, along with that of other senior Hamas figures, as part of its attack on what it said was the group's military infrastructure. Israel's defense minister, Benny Gantz, has said top Hamas figures remained targets.

Still, there was a widespread expectation that the cease-fire would stick for now, even if another round of fighting at some point seems inevitable. Underlying issues remain unresolved, including an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade, now in its 14th year, that is choking Gaza's more than 2 million residents and a refusal by the Islamic militant Hamas to disarm.

Israel has accused Hamas and the smaller militant group of Islamic Jihad of hiding the actual number of fighters killed in the war. Prime Minister Netanyahu said Friday that more than 200 militants were killed, including 25 senior commanders.

Islamic Jihad on Saturday gave a first account of deaths within its ranks, saying that 19 of its commanders and fighters were killed, including the head of the rocket unit in northern Gaza.

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