GAZA CITY  – Tens of thousands of Palestinians massed in Gaza on Saturday for a rally marking the 25th anniversary of Hamas addressed by the ruling Islamist movement’s leader in exile.

Addressing the rally, Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal rejected ceding ‘an inch’ of Palestinian territory to Israel or recognising the Jewish state.

“Palestine is our land and nation from the (Mediterranean) sea to the (Jordan) river, from north to south, and we cannot cede an inch or any part of it,” he said of the borders currently held by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, at a rally marking the 25th foundation of Hamas.

“Resistance is the right way to recover our rights, as well as all forms of struggle — political, diplomatic, legal and popular, but all are senseless without resistance,” he said on a historic first visit to Gaza.

Turning to the question of Palestinian unity, he said: “We are a single authority, a single reference, and our reference is the PLO, which we want united.”

That was a reference to the Palestine Liberation Organisation which, in the eyes of the international community, is the sole body that purports to speak for all the Palestinian people.”

Hamas does not belong to the PLO, whose chairman is Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, but Meshaal said a year ago that it and other factions were “on the path to joining” it.

His remarks could be seen as the latest bid by Hamas to integrate with the PLO and consolidate Palestinian ranks.

In 2006, Hamas won a landslide general election victory, routing Abbas’s long-dominant Fatah party.

Some 18 months later, Hamas ousted Fatah forces from Gaza after several weeks of running street battles, and the Islamist group now rules it. As a result, Abbas now holds sway only over the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Meshaal crossed into Gaza from Egypt on Friday on his first ever visit and his first to the Palestinian territories since 1975, accompanied by his deputy Mussa Abu Marzuk.

He spoke at a rally organisers said was attended by more than 100,000 supporters in the Al-Qitaba complex west of Gaza City, which was transformed into a sea of green Hamas flags.

The celebrations come just over two weeks after an Egyptian-brokered truce ended eight days of bloodshed with Israel which left 174 Palestinians dead.

“We used only 10 percent of our capacity in the fighting,” a masked spokesman for Hamas military wing the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades told the crowd.

“If you had escalated (your attacks), so would we have,” he told Israel. “We will cut the hand that extends in aggression against our people and leaders.”

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ofir Gendelman, retorted on Twitter that Hamas was celebrating “25 years of murdering Israelis by rockets & suicide bombings, as well as executing Fatah members & violating Pal human rights.”

A huge portrait of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, assassinated by Israel in 2004, dominated the main stage, as did one of Hamas military commander Ahmed Jaabari, whose killing by Israel set off last month’s deadly bloodshed.

Between them was a model of an M75 rocket of the sort fired at Israeli cities during the conflict.

On the backdrop was a model of Jerusalem’s golden-domed Al-Aqsa mosque, which appears on the Hamas emblem.

Founded in 1987 shortly after the start of the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, Hamas was inspired by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Its charter calls for the eventual destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state on the pre-1948 borders of the British Palestine Mandate.

Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal early last year that was supposed to have paved the way for the long-delayed elections to be held in both the West Bank and Gaza, but bickering has hampered its implementation.

Speaking on Friday, Meshaal promised to “walk down the route of reconciliation, bury the division (with Fatah) and empower unity in order to be aligned as one in the face of the Zionist entity,” Israel.