RAMALLAH - Hundreds started to gather in the early morning hours at the Beitunia crossing near Ramallah. Celebrating, happy and emotional, some were relatives of prisoners and others were just plain Palestinians who wanted to come and celebrate with the freed prisoners. Near the closed yellow gate that leads to the Israeli side, a pickup truck with speakers and filled with the yellow flags of Fatah, filled the air with songs praising the prisoners - and of course Fatah.
Across from it was another pickup, a little bit bigger, covered with the green flags of Hamas and which played songs praising the group's military wing time after time.
Despite the seeming competition between the two organizations, it was clear who was the real winner in the Gilad Shalit deal. Hundreds of Palestinians, most of them young, wrapped in green flags and scarves, made it clear that Hamas deserved the credit for the deal - and only Hamas.
Sheikh Hassan Yousef, one of Hamas' leaders in the West Bank, circulated among those celebrating and blessed the families before calming the crowd down somewhat. After years of hiding, persecution, avoiding rallies and demonstrations in the West Bank; Hamas supporters went out into the streets en masse to celebrate yesterday - and in particular went to Beitunia. No one talked about the heavy price the Palestinians have already paid, only the release of the 1,027 prisoners in return for Gilad Shalit.
One Hamas activist, Abdallah, wanted to make it clear to the Israeli public that Hamas does not seek peace. But he said that if Israel will release all the prisoners, return to the 1967 lines, return the refugees and more - then Hamas will be willing to consider peace.
"This is Muslim land," he said. "The Jews came from abroad and therefore can live here as citizens under an Islamic state. They could even buy land to live on. You should understand, Islam is the future. In all Arab countries and now in the West they understand that, and the first place Islam will rise is in Palestine. Our prisoners were freed with force, God-willing, we will free more with force."
Not everybody was waving Hamas colors in Beitunia, though. The brother of Samir Abu Naama, a prisoner staying in prison, was carrying his picture and approached Yousef. "Why didn't you free him? You promised to free all the prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment. You lied," he said. The sheikh unsuccesfully tried to calm him down.
Hamas supporters were still dancing ecstatically. But then came the announcement that the prisoners would be coming through a different gate due to fears of clashes between the Palestinian mobs and IDF troops. The people left for the official reception at Palestinian Authority headquarters. The party was short.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Yousef of Hamas spoke and praised the prisoners realtively briefly, and then the city returned to normal.
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