GAZA CITY (Ma’an) -- The Palestinian leader in Gaza praised the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners as a "historic moment," in an address late Tuesday to thousands of supporters.
Ismail Haniyeh said the resistance refused to back down on two demands - to include leaders of all factions, and to include Palestinians from "the whole of Palestine," not just the West Bank and Gaza.
The deal included Christians, women and 320 detainees with life terms, he said.
"We kiss the hands and foreheads of the Palestinian resistance" for their heroic role, he said, adding that the Islamic world and free people everywhere shared in the joy Palestinians were feeling.
Haniyeh thanked Egypt for its role and said more detainees "will be released soon."
He spoke to a densely-packed sprawl of low-rise concrete on the Mediterranean coast in sight of Israel, as tens of thousands rallied before a stage decorated by a mural bearing portraits of top militants who were not released.
RAFAH (AFP) -- The first Palestinian prisoners freed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of a landmark deal for the return of a captured Israeli soldier arrived home on Tuesday, an AFP reporter said.
Israel freed 477 Palestinian prisoners, most of them to the Gaza Strip, where Hamas leaders greeted former prisoners piling off buses bearing Red Cross insignia.
Three cars belonging to the ruling Hamas movement followed by a Red Cross vehicle accompanied a convoy of eight buses carrying the prisoners to their waiting relatives in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah.
Buses carrying the first Palestinian prisoners to be freed in the West Bank headed towards the city of Ramallah on Tuesday, an AFP reporter said.
A convoy of several buses was heading to the seat of the Palestinian presidency, the Muqataa, in Ramallah, where the detainees were expected to be greeted by President Mahmoud Abbas.
Gaza's Hamas government had earlier released captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who in an interview shortly after said he hoped the prisoner exchange could lead to peace between both sides.
Crowds gathered in both Gaza and the West Bank awaiting the return of their prisoners.
"This is the greatest joy for the Palestinian people," said Azzia al-Qawasmeh, awaiting at a West Bank checkpoint for her son Amer, who she said had been in prison for 24 years. more
Hamas political leader, Mahmoud Zahhar, told Israeli daily, Haaretz, that the prisoner-swap deal reached indirectly reached between Hamas and Israel includes lifting the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip.
Zahhar added that this issue was agreed upon when the German mediator started his role in the swap talks. “This is still valid under the current agreement”, he said.
The Hamas leader further stated that the deal to release prisoner-of-war Gilad Shalit, in return for releasing more than a thousand Palestinian detainees, also includes a section obliging Israel to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian detainees, adding that Gaza Strip families of the detainees will be allow to visit their beloved one.
After Shalit was captured on June 26, 2006, Israel canceled all visitation rights to Gaza Strip families of political prisoners.
Zahhar also said that Israel will also have to ease the restrictions on border terminals leading to Gaza, including travel from Gaza to the West Bank via Israel. more