Gaza leader promises 'difficult days' for Israel
TUNIS - The prime minister in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Sunday promised "difficult days" for Israel, and at a rally in Tunis urged Arab Spring revolutionaries to fight for an independent Palestine.
Ismail Haniya received an ovation from the crowd of some 5,000 men, women and children gathered in a stadium waving Palestinian, Tunisian and Hamas flags.
"Israel no longer has allies in Egypt and in Tunisia, we are saying to the Zionist enemies that times have changed and that the time of the Arab Spring, the time of the revolution, of dignity and of pride has arrived," he said to loud cheers.
"We promise you that we will not cede a single part of Palestine, we will not cede Jerusalem, we will continue to fight and we will not lay down our arms," he said.
He urged "the people of the revolution to fight the army of Al-Quds" as Jerusalem is known in Arabic.
"To Tunisia we say: 'It is us today who are going to build the new Middle East'."
Haniya insisted "We will not recognise Israel", as the crowd chanted: "Death to Israel", "The Tunisian revolution supports Palestine", and "The army of Mohammed is back".
Some wiped their feet on the Star of David.
Haniya arrived in Tunis on Thursday for a five-day visit at the invitation of the new Islamist-led Tunisian authorities. He has also visited Egypt, Sudan and Turkey and will next travel to Qatar and Bahrain.
Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by Western powers.
Haniya's visit does not sit well with representatives of the Palestinian Authority led by president Mahmud Abbas. One source said: "The Palestinians are furious."
Jews in Tunisia asked the government earlier Sunday to take steps to avoid a repeat of anti-Semitic slogans chanted during the Hamas leader's visit.
"No Tunisian should be insulted, and the government must take measures to ensure this incident is never repeated," Peres Trabelsi, a representative of Tunisia's small Jewish population, told AFP after the incident.
And the chief rabbi of Tunis, Haim Bittan, said: "Certain members of the community were frightened after this incident, but you have to make a distinction between the situation in the Middle East and here."
Islamist activists welcoming Haniya were heard chanting slogans like: "Kill the Jews, it is our duty", along with anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian messages.
"There are no Zionists in Tunisia and we don't want to be mixed into the problems of the Middle East," said Trabelsi. "Tunisia is our country."
Tunisia has one of the Arab world's largest Jewish minorities, numbering about 1,500 individuals in a population of more than 10 million.
The population has shrunk drastically from the 100,000 Jews who lived in Tunisia after independence in 1956.
Ajmi Lourimi, a member of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, said the slogans were an isolated incident that did not reflect the views of the government.
Ennahda last month said Jews living in the north African country were citizens with "all their rights and duties".
Those comments came in response an invitation by Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom for Tunisian Jews to settle in Israel.
Asked about the anti-Semitic slogans, Haniya told AFP: "We are not against the Jews because they are Jews. Our problem is with those who occupy the land of Palestine.
"The Jews are all over the world and Hamas is not targeting them," he added, speaking from the airport.