Gaza's Hamas rulers on Friday rejected criticism from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority over the terms of a prisoner swap deal signed with Israel this week.
Under the deal's terms, Hamas will free captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners—205 of whom will be exiled from their West Bank homes in a move slammed on Thursday by the Palestinian Authority's top diplomat, Riyad al-Malki.
Of that number, 163 will be sent to Gaza, while another 42, two of them women, will be deported to destinations as yet unknown.
But Hamas leader Ismail Radwan shrugged off the criticism.
"The number is small and does not even represent five per cent of the total number, and is being done voluntarily, with their personal agreement," he told AFP, referring to those who would not be allowed to return to the Palestinian Territories.
"These exiled prisoners will be able to return to Gaza when they want, and as for the others, they will be transferred to Gaza, which is part of the liberated homeland," Radwan said.
"Those serving long sentences had two choices: to die in prison or be freed under the agreement which involves the exile of a small number of them," he said.
He said the Palestinian Authority itself had accepted the deportation of 13 Palestinians in 2002 under terms of a deal which ended the 38-day siege of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.
The Palestinian Authority has officially welcomed the prisoner swap deal between Hamas and Israel, which was announced on Tuesday evening, but Malki attacked the Islamist movement for capitulating over the issue of deportations.
"We were very much disappointed that some of them will be transferred to Gaza and will not stay with their families in the West Bank, and other parties will also be deported outside," he said in an interview with France 24 on Thursday.