Israeli and Palestinian officials on Monday finalized preparations for the exchange of over 1,000 prisoners for a captured soldier, establishing closed military zones at swap sites and organizing welcome ceremonies.
Hamas officials in Gaza announced that a kilometer span from the southern Rafah border with Egypt would be considered a closed military zone, bar reporters for Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV who will cover the return of prisoners on Tuesday morning.
The Israeli army said the Ktziot Prison and Nitzana crossing near Israel’s border with Egypt, and the northern Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings with Gaza would be closed to all non-residents without an official permit.
Hamas chief Khalid Mashaal will arrive in Cairo later Monday to welcome prisoners freed by Israel in exchange for Gilad Shalit, according to press reports on Monday.
Mashaal is heading a delegation of Hamas officials who will prepare a welcome ceremony, Hamas-affiliated news site Palestine Information Center reported.
The release of prisoners will begin at 11 a.m. Tuesday, the report said.
Quoting Hamas officials, the site said the movement urged people in the West Bank to celebrate the release of detainees, as a moment uniting all Palestinians.
Under the deal, agreed by Hamas and Israel last Tuesday, over 1,000 Palestinians will be freed from Israeli jails in two stages, the first taking place in Egypt’s Sinai on Tuesday.
Shalit, captured by Gaza militants in 2006, will also be freed Tuesday.
Preparations under way
Once detainees arrive in Gaza, they will be greeted by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, along with other high profile delegates, a Ma’an correspondent said.
They will be transferred in buses along routes passing the homes of militants behind the capture of Shalit, guarded by police and troops, the reporter said.
TV screens are being distributed to air the release and locals are preparing bouquets and flags to meet the detainees.
In the West Bank, detainees will be transferred by the International Red Cross to Israel’s Ofer prison, near Ramallah in the West Bank, and will be greeted by Minister of Detainees’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe, Interior Minister Hussein al-Sheikh and Prisoners’ Society head Qadura Fares, among other officials.
The prisoners will then arrive at the Muqataa, the presidential headquarters and site of Yasser Arafat’s grave, for a brief ceremony before returning to their homes.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Supreme Court heard pleas from families who had lost relatives in attacks by prisoners set to be freed on Monday, as the Shalit family lawyer called for the body not to stop the exchange.
“Any change in (the deal), any court-ordered delay may be catastrophic,” Attorney Gilad Sher told the court, according to the Israeli news site Ynet.
A poll commissioned by Channel 10 found that 69 percent of Israelis backed the exchange. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a letter to bereaved families on Monday calling the decision to go ahead with the deal “one of the most difficult (decisions) I have ever made.”
Once Shalit arrives in Israel, he will be given a cellphone to call his mother before being transferred to his hometown, Israeli media said on Monday.