Hamas Expects Half a Million at Gaza Rally Following Shalit Swap

Militant group closes Rafah crossing to civilian traffic; only television broadcast to cover the day's events will be Hamas' Al-Aqsa network.

Hamas is expecting a turnout of 500,000 people at the rally in Gaza City Tuesday, to welcome home prisoners being exchanged with Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

During the rally, released prisoners will sit on a stage at the Al-Katiba square, along with senior Hamas officials. Construction of the stage has already been completed.


Despite the celebrations, there can also be found voices of criticism in Gaza about the prisoner exchange deal. A far greater number of Hamas-affiliated prisoners are to be released than those affiliated with Fatah, which is leading to a sense of discomfort among many citizens of Gaza. Although senior Fatah leader Abdallah Abu Samhadana will make a speech at today's rally, the absence of Marwan Barghouti from the list of prisoners being released overshadows Hamas' achievement.

Preparations for carrying out the deal were felt in almost every inch of the Gaza Strip Monday night. Dozens of members of the Hamas military force spread down Salah a-Din Street, which leads from the Rafah crossing to Gaza. Their job is to secure the convoy of buses transporting the released prisoners to the central rally in the middle of Gaza city.

Like Senior IDF Commander Tal Rosso, in charge of the Southern Command, who declared the passage areas to Gaza as a closed military zone, Hamas also announced Monday that it will close the Rafah crossing to civilians. The only television broadcast to cover the day's events will be Hamas' Al-Aqsa network. About one hundred senior officials will be permitted entry to the territory of the crossing where Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh will welcome the prisoners.