Thousands Greet Freed Prisoners in spite of Late Night Release

RAMALLAH, August 14, 2013 (WAFA) – Thousands of people waited for several hours at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah late Tuesday and early Wednesday to see their loved ones who were released from long captivity in Israeli jails.

Many others waited patiently at Beitunia checkpoint near Ramallah to see the 11 freed prisoners from the West Bank leave the Israeli military camp, Ofer, on the other side of the fence, at 1:00 in the morning.

Similar numbers of people waited at Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing with Gaza to receive the 15 prisoners from the Gaza Strip arrive there around the same time.

The 26 prisoners – 17 of them were serving life terms – were part of a deal the Palestinian Authority had reached with Israel to free 104 Palestinian prisoners held since before the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993 to boost resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

People waiting at Beitunia and Beit Hanoun cheered and whistled once the buses carrying the 26 prisoners crossed into the Palestinian-controlled territory.

In Beitunia, Palestinians threw rocks and bottles at the Israeli soldiers at Ofer military camp soon after the buses carrying the 11 from the West Bank had left the camp on their way to the presidential headquarters for an official reception.

Israeli soldiers responded with heavy barrage of tear gas and stun grenades. There were no reports of injuries.

It was around 1:30 Wednesday morning when the 26 freed prisoners arrived in Ramallah and Gaza.

In Ramallah, President Mahmoud Abbas greeted the 11 West Bank prisoners saying he will continue efforts to free all the prisoners.

After the short late ceremony, families of the freed prisoners hugged their loved ones with tears in their eyes, carried them on their shoulders and quickly rushed them to cars waiting outside the gates of the presidential headquarters each taking their freed family member to their hometown, where people were also waiting to greet them.

Families said the actual celebration for the freed prisoners will start Wednesday each in their home village of town.

The next group of 26 prisoners out of the 104 is expected to be released early October, said Minister of Prisoners Affairs Issa Qaraqi, who waited for the freed prisoners inside Ofer military camp and escorted them to the presidential headquarters.

The release of the remaining prisoners is however contingent on progress in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, which kicked off in Washington on July 30. The second round in these negotiations resumes Wednesday afternoon in Jerusalem.

Palestinians have however warned that the negotiations could collapse if Israel continues to expand settlements. Israel has announced the construction of over 3000 housing units in illegitimate East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements in the last week only.

source: WAFA NEWS