RAMALLAH – Thousands of Palestinians gathered in the West Bank on Tuesday to
celebrate the release of 477 prisoners
in the first stage of the Gilad Schalit
Chants of “The people want a new Schalit,” could be heard in
Ramallah as Hamas and Fatah supporters waved flags together.RELATED:
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rally at the Mukata presidential headquarters in the city, Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas hailed the release of the prisoners as a victory for the
In a rare display of national unity, he and Hassan
Youssef, a senior member of Hamas, spoke from the same podium as people rushed
to the front to greet their released relatives.
Abbas promised the
prisoners that they will see the results of their struggle and sacrifices in the
independent Palestinian state.
“Your cause was and is still in our heart
and minds. We see some of you out, and the rest will follow soon if God wills,”
he told the released prisoners.
Abbas referred to the prominent Fatah
leader Marwan Barghouti, the ill Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
secretary-general Ahmad Sadaat, and Hamas military commander in the West Bank
Ibrahim Hamed, who were left out of the deal, expressing hope they will be
“I call upon the Israeli government to keep its promise,”
Palestinians around the world were watching as the prisoners
were being released, Abbas said.
“Dear brothers and sisters, your
families in the Palestinian territories and around the world are looking at you
now and are happy that you are being released,” Abbas said. “I ask Allah to
forgive these martyrs.”
Upon their arrival, released prisoners went to
Yasser Arafat’s tomb to place garlands of flowers there.
speech was overpowered by the voices of the families welcoming their
People gathered across the presidential headquarters, greeting
their loved ones with hugs, kisses and tears.
“After 30 years in prison,
what do you expect me to feel when I see the sun for the first time?” Ibrahim
He told The Jerusalem Post
that his first priority is to
build his house, and that he missed his family a lot.
The prisoners ended
their hunger strike on Monday, and Jaber told the Post
that the Prisons Service
agreed to most of their demands.
Saadat, however, continued his
The Public Servants Union gave workers the day off on Tuesday,
starting at 10 a.m., to allow greater participation in the
Palestinians across the West Bank waited for their released
relatives in their hometowns, where festivities were also held.
are expected to visit the big tents pitched for the occasion across the West
Bank into next week to congratulate the released prisoners.
contributed to this report.