Hamas is planning huge celebrations in the Gaza Strip to welcome Palestinian prisoners who will be released as part of the prisoner exchange with Israel, Hamas officials said over the weekend.

On the other hand, the officials expressed fear that the Palestinian Authority security forces would try to prevent similar celebrations in the West Bank, to avoid boosting Hamas’s popularity.

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The celebrations in the Gaza Strip will include “military marches” by hundreds of gunmen belonging to Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, and to the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the groups that took part in the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.

During the main rally, which will be held in Gaza City, Palestinian gunmen are expected to participate in a show that re-enacts the abduction of Schalit in June 2006.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh will be the key speaker at the event, which has been called “Fulfilling the Pledge to the Free [prisoners].”

The released prisoners will enter the Gaza Strip via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, a senior Hamas official said.

From there, the inmates will be taken by bus to Gaza City, where tens of thousands of Hamas supporters and their families will be waiting for them, the official added.

“This is going to be one of the largest rallies in the Gaza Strip ever,” he said. “People here are so excited that they have already begun decorating the streets and houses with large banners welcoming the released heroes.”

Large tents will also be set up outside the houses of the prisoners to receive well-wishers for five hours a day for the next week.

Ashraf Zayed, a Hamas official who has been entrusted with preparing plans for the celebrations, said that members of Izzadin Kassam will accompany the released prisoners from the border crossing to Gaza City, where they will be first welcomed by Haniyeh and other senior Hamas figures.


“We have issued a public invitation to our people to participate in this great victory,” Zayed said. “This is undoubtedly a huge achievement for our people.”

Zayed expressed “regret” over restrictions allegedly imposed by PA security forces to prevent mass celebrations in solidarity with the released prisoners.

He said that despite the alleged restrictions, Hamas expected large numbers of Palestinians to take to the streets in the West Bank to welcome the prisoners and celebrate the prisoner exchange.

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