Maan News Agency | October 16, 2011
JERUSALEM (Reuters) — Palestinians in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip and the West Bank on Sunday prepared to celebrate the return of hundreds of prisoners held in Israeli jails, as the family of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit awaited his release after more than five years in captivity.
In Gaza, men were erecting a huge stage to be used to celebrate the release of the Palestinian prisoners as part of a swap-deal between Israel and Hamas.
“This is the biggest stadium in the area. This stadium is built in large size to host the prisoners. We will honor the prisoners in this site,” said director of social works in Hamas movement, Ashraf Abu Zaid.
With just a couple of days before the release of Palestinian prisoners, the sound of printing machines could be heard in various parts of Gaza strip.
Zakaria Halabi’s print shop works around the clock to meet the demand, and he says that initial order for prisoners banners and posters has increased significantly.
“We are printing banners and posters. We have huge banners, we are working overtime and we expect more banners to be printed. All posters are related to prisoners,” Halabi added.
Like the banners, Hamas and Palestinian flags are flying in the enclave.
While preparing her house for the return of her son, Dalal al-Kurd voiced joy about his upcoming release.
“Because we are happy that he will be released. During the war our house was damage so now we are fixing his house and renovating his house,” the Mother of Basem Al-Kurd explained.
Earlier on Sunday Israel made public the names of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, some serving life sentences for deadly attacks, to be freed in exchange for soldier Gilad Shalit as part of a deal it reached with Hamas.
Israeli media said some of the prisoners on the list to be released were involved in some of the worst attacks on Israelis –suicide bombings which killed dozens of civilians, during a Palestinian uprising, last decade.
Israel’s Prison Service posted the list of those to be let out on its website. Israelis who oppose the release of the prisoners now have 48 hours to appeal to the country’s highest court to prevent the release.
The court is not expected to intervene, however.
Not only residents of Mitzpe Hila, Shalit’s small community in northern Israel, were awaiting his release. Israelis from across the country, including Israelis of Palestinian origin, arrived at the rural area to voice their joy over the upcoming release.
“I brought my son today to Mitzpe. I showed him the house of Gilad Shalit, that everybody is waiting for him. My son is happy that this soldier will be back and we are all happy that he is coming back. We have been awaiting this for a long time,” resident of Galilee, Mata Endrio, told Reuters Television.
Shalit was captured in June 2006 by Palestinian militants who tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip. He has been held in the Hamas-ruled territory ever since.
The first phase of the prisoner swap involves 450 men and 27 women. Another 550 will be released in about two months, according to officials familiar with the Egyptian-mediated deal.
Some prisoners originally from the West Bank will be sent to the Gaza Strip and other prisoners will be exiled abroad.
Israel and Hamas negotiators in Egypt were expected on Sunday to discuss final logistics for implementation of the deal.
One Israeli group opposed to the deal, the Almagor Terror Victims’ Association, said the release would lead to further violence and abduction attempts and robs victims of the right to live in peace.
There are at least 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. They are held in high esteem within society for their role in the national struggle for self determination against Israeli occupation.
Related: Palestine & Israel Prepare for Prisoner Release – in pictures