Palestinian Prisoners Welcomed Home

Ali Waked; Ronny Sofer

Palestinian Prisoners Welcomed Home

(VIDEO) Hundreds gather at Bituniya checkpoint to welcome West Bank prisoners released by Israel; Peres signs for release of remaining prisoners to be transferred to Gaza on Tuesday



VIDEO—President Shimon Peres on Monday evening signed for the reduction of the sentences of some 30 Gazan security prisoners without blood on their hands. The prisoners will be released Tuesday morning, bringing about the completion of the prisoner release process that was delayed on Monday.

The prisoners were meant to be released along with 56 West Bank prisoners, but the Israel Prison Service told Ynet the Gazans were not released following instructions “from above”.

The official reason given for the delay was “technical reasons,” but various government offices could not provide a more satisfying explanation.

On Monday, hundreds of Palestinians waited from the early hours of the morning at the Bituniya checkpoint near Ramallah for the return of West Bank prisoners who were released by Israel as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

In Gaza, on the other hand, families of the prisoners returning to the Strip left the place disappointed by the delay in the release of their loved ones.

Video: Reuters. Editing: Tomer Barzida

At the end of the release process at the Bituniya checkpoint, the freed prisoners were driven to the Muqata’a in Ramallah, where hundreds of Palestinians had gathered.

The prisoners were welcomed by PA Secretary-General Tayeb Abdul Rahim and government ministers.

Some of the family member arrived at Bituniya checkpoint as early as 5 am, holding pictures of their loved ones and flags and pictures of Yasser Arafat and other faction leaders.

Fatah and PA officials arriving at Bituniya told the crowd that this release was just one small step, a drop in the ocean, as family members waited too see the buses bringing their loved ones home.

Disappointment in Gaza

Back in Gaza, Fatah officials such as Zakaria al-Agha, Ibrahim Abu al-Naja and other former ministers arrived at Erez crossing dressed in tailored suits, but quickly received reports of the delay in the release of Gazan prisoners.

Waving Palestinian flag at checkpoint (photo: AFP)

Hassan Hassanein, father of one of the prisoners who was supposed to be released on Monday, told Ynet, “I can’t describe my joy, this is a moment I’ve been waiting for for six years.”

Hassanein’s son Abdel Hadi was sentenced in November 2001 to 12 years in prison, and out of the prisoners on the list, he is considered to have the most prison time left to serve.

“I just pray that all the prisoners are released and not just my son.” Hassanein said, “I want all 11,000 prisoners to go free, this is why my joy is not complete, because my son is getting out but many others are left behind.”

Hassanein said he set up a tent in which he would host anyone coming to congratulate the family, saying, “This is a holiday, because despite everything, every prisoner released is an achievement and a great joy.”