Gaza City: In order to celebrate the signing of a reconciliation deal between bitter rivals Hamas and Fatah, hundreds of delighted Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip took to the streets on Thursday.

As Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal sat down in Cairo to ratify the deal with president Mahmud Abbas, who heads the Fatah faction, more than 1,000 people turned out in Gaza City to show their support, with parallel demonstration in the West Bank.

In Gaza, the demonstrators marched from all over the city to gather at the Square of the Unknown Soldier in a festive atmosphere, with people dancing in circles and letting off fire crackers as they cheered the deal aimed at ending years of division between the two rival national movements.

The square and the surrounding streets were turned into a sea of colored flags, most of them Palestinian.

But in a real sign of change, scores of people held up the yellow flag of Fatah, which has been banned in Gaza since the Islamists kicked the secular movement out of the territory in June 2007.

“This is the first time in four years I can hold a Fatah flag alongside a Palestinian flag,” said Mahmud al-Riati, a 20-year-old engineering student with a Palestinian flag tied around his shoulders like a cape.

“Abbas stood up to Israel and he chose to continue the agreement with Hamas. He refused to give in to Israeli pressure and chose the Palestinian side,” he said, struggling to make his voice heard over the honking of car horns and loudspeakers blaring music into the square.

Among Gaza’s youth, the mood was overwhelmingly optimistic, despite the host of issues yet to be ironed out under the deal.

“This is the day that we’ve all been waiting for,” someone bellowed into a loudspeaker, praising the March 15 youth movement that organized mass demonstrations across the Palestinian territories some six weeks ago which played an important role in pushing the leadership to reach a deal.

“It is our liberation today,” he shouted, saying it was all down to the youth who suffered arrests and beatings as they repeatedly called for the two factions to reconcile. “It has all been worth it!”

The reconciliation deal envisages Hamas and Fatah working to put together an interim government of candidates unaffiliated with either faction, who will rule until presidential and legislative elections can be held within a year.

(Agencies)