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
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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.
Minister Ismail Haniyeh will be the key speaker at the event, which has been
called “Fulfilling the Pledge to the Free [prisoners].”
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
“We have issued a public invitation to our people to participate
in this great victory,” Zayed said. “This is undoubtedly a huge achievement for
Zayed expressed “regret” over restrictions allegedly imposed
by PA security forces to prevent mass celebrations in solidarity with the
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.