Hamas chief to greet exiled Palestinian prisoners in Egypt

AFP , Monday 17 Oct 2011

Gaza celebrates the return of more than 1,000 prisoners who had been held in Israeli prisons

Damascus-based Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal will welcome 40 exiled Palestinians to Egypt on Tuesday in exchange for the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, the Islamist movement said.

"The movement decided to send a high-level delegation headed by Meshaal to welcome the prisoners in Egypt," Hamas spokesman Izzat al-Rishq, a member of the movement's political bureau, told AFP on Monday.

"Shalit will stay (in our hands) until we make sure the Palestinian prisoners are delivered to Egypt, in coordination with Egyptian intelligence," he added.

Under the landmark deal, which was mediated by Egypt, a first group of 477 Palestinian prisoners will be set free at the same time as Shalit.

Of that number, 163 prisoners from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, will be exiled to Gaza, as well as one Arab Israeli woman prisoner.

Another 40 prisoners are to be exiled abroad in an operation to be handled by Egypt, which will ensure they are flown to host countries including Turkey, Syria or Qatar.

"The celebrations in Gaza and the West Bank will be a national holiday," Rishq said.

The Palestinian Authority has welcomed the deal but said it was disappointed Hamas had agreed to allow Israel to exile more than 200 of the prisoners, a condition previously rejected by the Islamist movement.

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