Palestinians gather to greet prisoners

2011-10-18 09:38

Ofer prison - Throngs of excited Palestinians gathered in the West Bank and Gaza from early on Tuesday, preparing to greet prisoners released under a landmark exchange deal.

A group of 477 Palestinian prisoners, some held in Israeli jails for decades, were to be freed under a deal that will see a total of 1 027 Palestinians released in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was released by Hamas into Egyptian care at around 08:15 (06:15 GMT).

At the Ofer prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah, thousands of men and women gathered in the early hours of the morning, braving the cold air, many of the men pulling on cigarettes and pacing to keep warm.

Some in the crowds waved green flags of the Hamas movement, which inked the landmark exchange deal with Israel, as well as the yellow flags of the Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas - and the Palestinian flag.

People gather on Mount of Olives

The atmosphere was festive, with some chanting "national unity, national unity" and clapping their hands.

Dozens of people were also gathering on the Mount of Olives in annexed east Jerusalem, awaiting the 15 prisoners who were expected to arrive home during the morning, an AFP correspondent said.

Outside Ofer prison, Lulia Makhamra, 62, was standing with a Palestinian flag draped over her head as she waited for the return of her son Mohammed Awad, who has served 10 years of a life sentence.

"I'm feeling a truly beautiful happiness, even though my other son is still in prison," she told AFP.
"I didn't believe that I would live to see Mohammed, but today I feel very, very happy."

Palestinian radio said the workers union in the West Bank called for employees to stop work at 10:00 am "to welcome home our prisoners".

At the Rafah crossing in southern Gaza, a delegation of senior Hamas officials accompanied by representatives of the prisoners’ families were waiting impatiently.

When the 297 prisoners arrive in Rafah, they will travel in a convoy up to Gaza City where they will enter the city in a triumphal procession, kicking off massive celebrations which will be presided over by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Many prisoners exiled

Hamas's al-Aqsa television station was running wall-to-wall coverage of the exchange, playing patriotic songs over footage of crowds awaiting the prisoners' return.

In Gaza City, the streets were draped with the green flags of Hamas, which was one of three Gaza-based groups that participated in the 2006 capture of Shalit.

Tuesday's operation will see Israel freeing 477 prisoners, 297 of whom will be sent to Gaza. But only 133 of them are going 'home' - with the rest being exiled there from their homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

  • africanwolf - 2011-10-18 10:02

    It won't be long before they will be captured again, for being involved in terror. a leopard never changes his spots.

  • Selwyn - 2011-10-18 10:06

    Once again it goes to show the worth of 1 Israeli soldier, makes sense. It also goes to show that Palestine do not see any worth in their soldiers.

  • rudolph.steenkamp - 2011-10-18 10:26

    Either that soldier is the Israeli Rambo, or the 477 Palestinian prisoners are utterly useless. What a good deal!

  • cosmos.ndebele - 2011-10-18 10:36

    This is huge victory by freedom and liberation fighters that is HAMAS, i cant help,but just admire from a distance. I think this is the moment for peace in the middle-east. Bibi knew he had to raise the white flag here

      Leon - 2011-10-18 13:19

      victory for hamas YOU ARE A IDOIT

  • Jaba - 2011-10-18 12:45

    Palestinians Murderous Heroes The Palestinians being freed today murdered hundreds of innocent civilians in brutal grisly terror attacks. One strangled a lost Israeli during a mob lynching, another lured an Israeli boy over the internet to meet for a date when he was murdered, a third was responsible for the Sbarro bombing killing 16, many children. These are the people being exchanged for innocent Shalit who was abducted, and the fact that the Palestinians consider murderes with blood on their hands heros is psychotic to me.

      Ax - 2011-10-18 16:54

      what are your sources? you are speaking out of you a$$ assuming all palestinians are what you call terrorist and all isreali and their soldiers innocent lambs. things are more complex than that and people around the world are starting to be more informed about the truth in this area, when the isreali army killed 1500 innocent palestinians among which 350 children with white phosphorus, you didnt say a word.

      Leon - 2011-10-18 17:06

      IDIOT ax you think you know everything sitting in your moms house and reading the newspapers Get out of the eastern Cape and go and travel and then you can start talking

      Ax - 2011-10-18 17:13

      here we go with the insults again, cant you debate without spewing hatred and insults? guess not, you dont deserve a well argumented reply.

  • Tawfeeq.Apple - 2011-10-18 19:58

    if the question of a Jewish homeland is answered in the affirmative and we then agree that Jews have every right to a homeland in the occupied Palestinian territories then similarly all people of Khoi, Xhosa and Zulu descent should start occupying the homes of white people from Camps Bay to Ballito Bay

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