Palestinian prisoners freed by Israel as part of the Shalit deal and deported abroad received a warm welcome in Syria, Turkey and Qatar early Wednesday. "As long as there are prisoners in Israel, the mujahideen will always try to free them," one prisoner pledged as he landed.
Hundreds of people greeted the 16 Palestinian prisoners who arrived in Damascus. "The resistance is increasing and there are steps for the future," prisoner Nimer Darwaze said. "The resistance will continue until the victory, God willing."
Another prisoner, Mo'tassim Mawdidi, slammed Israel. "The prisoners are suffering from the worst conditions in the occupation's prisons. The occupation (Israel) creates every day new ways to torture and humiliate the prisoners. But, thank God, the prisoners are strong and they will not give up."
|Palestinian prisoners get warm welcome (Video: Reuters)|
A total of 477 Palestinian prisoners were released
as part of the first stage of the Shalit deal
on Tuesday. Most were deported to Gaza, some returned to the West Bank and Israel and some 40 prisoners were deported overseas.
Celebrations in Damascus (Photo: Reuters)
Eleven Palestinians arrived in Turkey and made V-for-victory signs as they arrived in Ankara, television pictures showed.
For full coverage of Shalit's homecoming, click here
A private plane flew the 10 men and one woman from Cairo to the Turkish capital Ankara, where they were met at Esenboga Airport by the Palestinian ambassador to Ankara Nabil Maarouf and Turkish foreign ministry officials.
Amna Muna gestures V in Ankara (Photo: Reuters)
"The Palestinian government and the Palestinian people want to thank Turkey, the government, the people, for all their help and support to Palestine in general, and what they did in helping in releasing these people and receiving them here. God willing we shall continue to receive more support from Turkey until Palestine is liberated," Maarouf said.
Among the Palestinians was Amna Muna, who on Tuesday caused a brief delay in the implementation of the deal after refusing to be moved to the Gaza Strip.
Muna lured teenager Ofir Rahum to his death in 2001. She is considered the leader of the female Palestinian prisoners held in Israel and previous reports suggested she terrorized inmates. It was feared that families of the prisoners will seek revenge over her abuse of the other inmates.
Landing in Turkey (Photo: AFP)"We are grateful to the Turkish government for its support in the process of releasing the Palestinians and bringing them to Turkey," state-run Anatolian news agency quoted Maarouf as telling reporters at the airport.
"God willing we will continue to seek Turkey's support until Palestine attains freedom," he added.
Media reports said the 11 were spending the night in Ankara but it was not disclosed where for security reasons.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had announced on Tuesday that about 10 Palestinians would come to Turkey. Some 40 of the Palestinians were sent to Turkey, Syria and Qatar.
Davutoglu said Turkey was willing to assist the prisoner exchange as it believes it will support the peace process. He described the prisoner swap as having a humanitarian element.
Meanwhile, Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper quoted an official source as saying Ankara will keep the prisoners away from the public eye for the time being for their own personal safety. Israel, the report said, did not demand any special conditions from Ankara in handling the prisoners.
Fifteen prisoners landed in Qatar where a more modest reception was given. A Palestinian diplomat said the prisoners met with the deputy prime minister and were then taken to a hotel in Doha. They will undergo medical examinations later on.
"No words can describe my feelings," said Mohammed Wael, who was to serve a sentence of more than 1,600 years for his involvement in suicide attacks, after his arrival in Doha.