Palestinian prisoners' families demand they be part of any deal

Families concerned Hizbullah was seeking to release only Lebanese prisoners in exchange for IDF soldiers it is holding.

pal prisoners praying 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
pal prisoners praying 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The families of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails on Saturday expressed concern that Hizbullah was seeking to release only Lebanese prisoners in exchange for the two IDF soldiers it is holding in Lebanon. On Friday, Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who claims that he has received a mandate from Hizbullah to negotiate on its behalf, said in an interview with the pan-Arab al-Jazeera network that the Shi'ite organization was prepared to release the two soldiers if Israel released all Lebanese prisoners, halted its attacks on Lebanon and allowed tens of thousands of civilians to return to their homes in southern Lebanon. Berri's statements raised many eyebrows in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, especially since the Palestinians were hoping that Hizbullah would demand the release of thousands of prisoners from Israeli jails. Only four Lebanese citizens are known to be held in Israel: Samir Quntar, Nissim Nasser, Yehia Skaff and Ali Faratan. Palestinians have in the past expressed disappointment with Hizbullah for failing to demand the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners during prisoner exchanges with Israel. "It would be a crime to demand the release of only four men in return for the two Israeli soldiers," said Amin Manasra, the father of a Palestinian who has is serving a life sentence in Israeli jail. "We have no doubt that Israel would be prepared to release thousands of Palestinian prisoners in return for the two soldiers. In the past, Israel released hundreds of prisoners in return for a handful of Israelis." The families of some of the Palestinian prisoners demonstrated in Gaza City over the weekend, calling on Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah to include their sons in any future prisoner swap with Israel. Some of the families expressed outrage at Berri's statements, expressing hope that he did not represent the official Hizbullah line. "Hizbullah will lose its popularity on the Arab street if it releases the two soldiers without securing the release of several thousand Palestinian prisoners," said Ahlam Mustafa, whose two sons, Ali and Adham, have been in Israeli prison for nearly 10 years. "We hope Nasrallah won't let us down. So many people have been killed in the past three weeks that it would be ridiculous if Israel released only three or four prisoners. I hope these reports are untrue." Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets over the weekend to express their support for Hizbullah and to demand the release of all Palestinian prisoners. The largest demonstration was held in Ramallah on Friday, where the protesters carried pictures of Nasrallah and Hizbullah flags as they shouted slogans against the US and Israel. "O' beloved Nasrallah, bomb, bomb Tel Aviv!" and "Nasrallah is the leader of the Arab and Muslim nations" were only some of the slogans used by the demonstrators. The pro-Hizbullah rallies were organized by several Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah. "Hassan Nasrallah is one of the greatest Arab leaders since [former Egyptian President] Gamal Abdel Nasser," said Assad Abu Muhana, a school teacher who participated in the demonstration. "He's even greater than Saddam Hussein." Later in the afternoon, when al-Jazeera reported that Hizbullah had fired a long-range missile at Afula, Palestinians in several parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip took to the streets, shouting "Allahu Akbar!" [God is great] as an expression of joy. Gunmen in Nablus, Tulkarm and Jenin fired into the air, while others handed out sweets to passersby. The demonstrators also condemned the Arab countries for failing to wage war on Israel. To express their disgust with the US-backed Arab governments, the demonstrators staged a mock funeral for the Arab League and urged the Arab masses to get rid of their regimes so that they could join the fight against Israel.