RAMALLAH - Preparations in anticipation of the prisoner exchange were manifest in every corner of the Gaza Strip Monday.
Dozens of Hamas security men and members of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, the organization's military wing, were deployed along the Saladin thoroughfare, which leads from the Rafah crossing point to Gaza City, and then to the Erez Crossing junction. Their assignment will be to guard the convoy of buses scheduled to ferry hundreds of newly released Palestinian prisoners this morning to the site of the main rally, Al-Katiba square in Gaza City.
Similar to Israel's decision to declare the Ketziot region a closed military area, Hamas announced Monday that the Rafah crossing point and its surrounding area are closed military zones. Unwanted civilians and media personnel will not be allowed entry. Television broadcasts from this area will be transmitted exclusively by Hamas' Al-Aqsa network. Only about 100 people from various Palestinian political groups, particularly Hamas, will be allowed entry to the crossing point.
Gaza's prime minister, Sheikh Ismail Haniyeh, will be on hand to welcome the 300 prisoners who are scheduled to arrive in Gaza. In Cairo, the head of Hamas' political bureau, Khaled Meshal, will greet 40 Palestinian prisoners.
In the West Bank, meanwhile, there were few obvious preparations for the prisoner exchange. A rally is scheduled in Ramallah on Tuesday, featuring Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Sheikh Hassan Yousef, Hamas' leader in the West Bank.
No other festivities are planned in the West Bank.
"This is not a deal," charged Fatah's Qadura Fares, who heads a Palestinian prisoner activist group and is a close associate of jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti. Fares told Haaretz, "This agreement does not come close to respecting the principles and criteria which Hamas itself promised."
Fares spoke during a rally held Monday in central Ramallah in "Support of the Prisoners." The rally was not a celebration; rather, it was arranged to protest the details of the prisoner deal. Several members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine took part in the demonstration, holding pictures of Ahmed Saadat, the organization's secretary-general who remains in an Israeli prison despite past assurances by Hamas.
Also taking part in the Ramallah rally were Fatah operatives and many relatives of prisoners who are not scheduled to be released Tuesday. Mothers of prisoners, including those who belong to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - who likely will remain behind bars in Israel for many more years - tried to tell their sons' stories to journalists.
"Hamas leaders made vows about a number of specific items, and then did not redeem their promises," said Fares. "They are liars. They said that there would not be an expulsion clause in the agreement because expulsion is worse than incarceration, but they agreed to the expulsion of 200 prisoners. They exchanged one punishment for another."
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