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After Israeli withdrawal, Hamas asserts victory in Gaza

Officials have pledged to rebuild the coastal enclave.

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Hamas officials emerged from weeks in hiding on Tuesday for a defiant "victory celebration" with their supporters outside the gutted parliament building, the latest sign that Israel's three-week assault neither broke the militant Islamist group nor weakened its control of the Gaza Strip.

Entire neighborhoods and practically all government buildings are in ruin, but Hamas police officers were on the streets, assuring Palestinians that they'd rebuild the coastal territory, home to 1.5 million. Hamas operatives were also passing out cash payments to some of the thousands of families who lost their homes.

"We are here," said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman. "Hamas political and military leaders are with the civilians. We are with the people. This is the victory of Hamas against the occupation."

More than 1,300 Palestinians – many of them women and children – were killed, and some 5,000 homes were destroyed as Israeli forces tried to cripple Hamas.

Israeli ground troops remained on the edges of Gaza despite reports in the Israeli media that they'd withdraw before President Obama took office on Tuesday. The cease-fire, however, held with no major skirmishes.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said that Hamas and the rival Fatah party – which Hamas forced from Gaza in a bloody 2007 coup after winning a democratic election in January 2006 – have to reconcile in order to rebuild the territory and restart talks with Israel on forming a Palestinian state.

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