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Hamas Leader Claims "Remarkable Victory"

(AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Top Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal claimed a "remarkable victory" over Israel on Wednesday, at the end of the Jewish state's 22-day military operation in the Gaza Strip. He said the feat was a prelude to the liberation of Palestine.

"Yes, we the resistance won the battle in Gaza and the enemy failed in the field as it failed in politics. The enemy had to withdraw from the Strip without being able to impose any condition," Mashaal said, just hours after Israel completed its troop pullout.

"The Battle of Gaza is a real and remarkable victory and the liberation of Palestine has become a reality," he said in a 40-minute speech aired on Arab satellite networks Al-Quds and Al Jazeera.

"Hamas, which they wanted to finish, has become more powerful and more popular as it entered every house and became a slogan in Palestine and the rest of Arab nation," the militant group's leader said. He lives in exile in Syria.

Hamas has not said how many fighters it lost in the fighting, but the Israeli military puts the number at 500. About 1,300 Palestinians, half of them women and children, were killed and some 5,000 wounded in the aerial strikes and ground fighting that rattled Gaza.

"This is the first real and big war that the Palestinian people won on their land. It is a turning point in the struggle and establishes through its accomplishments and timing a serious and effective strategy for liberation that starts with Palestine and stretches, with the support of the Arab nation, to everywhere," Mashaal said.

He urged his fighters to be on "maximum alert" and keep their "fingers on the trigger" as there were two battles remaining; the battle to lift the economic blockade on Gaza and re-open the border crossings, including the Rafah crossing from Egypt, which he described as a "lifeline" and the "gate to the outside world."

Mashaal said Israel had only managed to destroy houses, mosques and hospitals and vowed he would compensate Palestinian families for their losses by distributing money.

He said he hoped international aid would be given to the "clean" hands, and not to the "corrupt" ones, a reference to the Palestinian authority led by Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas.

There has been distinctly little excitement, meanwhile, among Syrians on the streets of Damascus, the oldest inhabited city in the world, about the new American president.

Most of the capital's residents first reaction is something like, "inshallah (God willing), he'll be better than Bush".

Some are even less optimistic. "I have no illusions. When it comes to supporting Israel, I don't think Obama will make a difference," says Mohammed Samir Olabi, a 38-year-old businessman. "He will be like the previous U.S. Presidents."