Khaled Meshaal, chief of the Hamas political bureau, celebrated Wednesday the release of 477 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons, the first phase of a prisoner swap deal after the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. One thousand and twenty seven Palestinian prisoners will be freed in total.
“The prisoner swap deal marks a white page in Palestine’s history. It’s a victory that was achieved first and foremost by the tough hands that fought Israel and overcame its security apparatus,” said Meshaal, in a press conference in Cairo.
The conference was attended by 40 of the former prisoners who are waiting to be deported to various countries, including Qatar, Syria, Jordan and Turkey. The rest of the 437 returned to their homes in Gaza, the West Bank, Israel and Jerusalem.
The conditions of the deal include that some prisoners will be required to report to the Israeli military every month, while some will be deported for three years and then returned home. Some of the released prisoners are being deported outside of Israel and Palestine indefinitely.
Shalit was abducted in June 2006 by Hamas militants who tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and surprised his tank crew, killing two of his colleagues. He has since been held incommunicado.
“Hiding Gilad Shalit for five years in Gaza is a miracle that the nation is proud of. The resistant Palestinian mind defeated the Israeli security mind that is supported by the most advanced surveillance technologies,” said Meshaal.
The Hamas chief leader added that Palestinians were very patient, putting up with the blockade, the bombardments, detentions and killings until a peak in the 2008-2009 war, “when the Zionist army retreated in defeat without Shalit and without stopping the Hamas rockets. They couldn’t impose their conditions on us."
Meshaal thanked Egypt for its efforts in mediating between the two parties.
As for the thousands of Palestinians still inside Israeli prisons, Meshaal said that Hamas would have never left them had it not known that this was the ceiling for this deal's achievements.
“We have made an oath to keep fighting for the release of the rest of our brothers in prisons,” said Meshaal.
Meshaal said that the deal is a “national success that goes beyond any party goals or factions’ interests.”
“We are one nation with one goal and one blood even if we have political disagreements," he added.
Talk has been circulating about Meshaal's relocation to Cairo after having been hosted for years in Syria, now torn by a bloody uprising.