2009-10-02 | 21:39:13
by Saud Abu Ramadan, Emad Drimly, Fares Akram
EREZ CROSSING, Gaza Strip, Oct. 2 (Xinhua) -- Fatima al-Zeg, the 42-year-old prisoner, who was freed from an Israeli jail, together with 18 colleagues from the West Bank, arrived in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with her two-year-old child Yousef on Friday.
Dozens of Palestinians received al-Zeg and her child, who was born during her captivity, at Erez border crossing at the northern tip of the Gaza Strip.
The mother and the child were warmly received by her mother, husband Mohamed and her other three children who haven't seen her since she was arrested in May 2007.
Amid a mixed feeling of tears and happiness, al-Zeg, the Islamic Jihad (Holy War) movement's member, hugged her family members and said "al-Hamdolillah (thank God)" while dozens of recipients shouted "Allah Akbar (God is great)."
"I thank God for my release first and thank the Palestinian armed resistance who made this prisoners' exchange deal. I'm so glad to be release together with my son and my colleagues, but this happiness would remain incomplete until all the prisoners are released," al-Zeg told reporters.
Israel and the captors of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit agreed on Wednesday through the Egyptian and German mediators to free 20 female Palestinian prisoners for handing Israel a recent one-minute videotape showing the soldier Shalit alive, sound and good.
Shalit was abducted wounded in June 25, 2006 inside an Israeli armored vehicle, during a cross-border triple armed attack southeast Gaza Strip carried out by Hamas armed wing and two other minor armed groups. Two Israeli army officers and four Palestinians were killed in the attack.
Since he was abducted, Shalit sent a letter to his family, but before Israel carried out a 22-day war on the Gaza Strip that ended in January 18. After that war was over, Hamas leaders said they are not sure if Shalit is still alive, due to the intensive Israeli air strikes and shelling on the impoverished enclave.
Israel and Hamas had agreed to involve Germany in the indirect negotiations to finalize a prisoners' swap deal between the two sides. Shalit's captors demand to free around 1,000 prisoners from Israeli prisons for the release of the captive soldier.
Al-zeg was the only prisoner from the Gaza Strip to be released, while 18 other female prisoners are from the West Bank, where they headed to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas's office in Ramallah who received them in official ceremonies. They also laid flowers for late leader Yasser Arafat.
They were seen smiling and waving from Red Cross vehicles, as they made their way from the Ofer prison, where they were transferred from the Tel Hashomar prison. Two convoys took the women, who joined the crowds that celebrated their release.
Israel released the 19 women right after it received a video tape. According to Israel TV, channel 10, the tape, which was immediately handed to Shalit's family, is more than one minute and it showed him alive, sound and good. The tape also showed him holding a newspaper dated September 14, the TV said.
Members from Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip as well as members of the less influential Islamic Jihad movement escorted al-Zeg and her family to meet with Ismail Haneya, the deposed Prime Minister of Hamas government and other Hamas leaders in Gaza City.
A relative of Fatima, called Rawda, was supposed to be freed but Israel postponed her release to Sunday due to Jewish holidays. Fatima and Rawda were arrested at Erez Crossing on May 2007, as they were on their way to an Israeli hospital for a surgery of Rawda, Fatima's niece.
At Hamas government's headquarters, Haneya who warmly received the mother, her child and her family, described the release of al-Zeg and the other 18 female prisoners as "a day of triumph for the will of the Palestinian people and their brave resistance."
"This partial prisoners' exchange deal is a short step towards a long way the opens a door for hope to finalize a comprehensive and honorable deal and free a larger number of Palestinian prisoners," said Haneya. According to official estimations, there are 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Al-Zeg told reporters in a joint news conference with Haneya "I greet everyone, mainly the Palestinian resistance, for their efforts to ensure our release," adding "our happiness would remain incomplete until all Israeli jails are emptied of prisoners."