GAZA // The Fatah party of the Western-backed Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, staged a huge rally in the Gaza Strip yesterday, the first such gathering in the territory since the Islamist Hamas group took control there in 2007 and a reflection of the warming ties between the two rival factions.
A long hiatus in peace talks between Mr Abbas's administration and Israel has narrowed ideological differences between the two main Palestinian factions. Solidarity has deepened since Israel's Gaza assault in November, in which Hamas, though battered, declared victory against the Jewish state.
Mr Abbas remains based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but several of his senior advisers attended yesterday's march in the Gaza Strip, festooned with yellow Fatah flags rather than the green Hamas colours that have dominated such events since Hamas fighters drove Fatah from the territory in 2007.
In a recorded speech, Mr Abbas said, "There is no substitute for national unity".
On Thursday night, Mr Abbas signed a presidential decree changing the name of the Palestinian Authority to the "State of Palestine", after the Palestinians' upgraded status at the United Nations as a non-member observer state.
According to the decree, reported by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, all stamps, signs, and official letterheads will be changed to bear the new name.
It is the first concrete, albeit symbolic, step the Palestinians have taken since the November UN vote. Mr Abbas has hesitated to take more dramatic steps, such as filing war crimes indictments against Israel at the International Criminal Court, a tactic that only a recognised state can carry out.
"The message today is that Fatah cannot be wiped out," said Amal Hamad, a member of the group's ruling body. "Fatah lives, no one can exclude it and it seeks to end the division."
The demonstration marked 48 years since the secular Fatah's founding as the spearhead of the Palestinians' fight against Israel. Its late leader, Yasser Arafat, signed an interim 1993 peace accord that won Palestinians a measure of self rule.
An Egyptian official said that Cairo was preparing to invite the factions for new negotiations within two weeks.
* Reuters and the Associated Press