Gaza marks anniversary of prisoner swap deal
GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories - Hundreds of Hamas militants on Thursday kicked off celebrations in Gaza to mark one year since Israel began freeing 1,027 prisoners in exchange for the release of one soldier.
In the first event of a day of celebrations, hundreds of armed and masked militants from the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the ruling Hamas movement, marched through the city in a big show of force, an AFP correspondent said.
The snatching of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006 by a group of Hamas militants and others sparked a more than five-year crisis for Israel, which finally ended on October 18, 2011.
As Shalit walked free, Israel released 477 Palestinian prisoners in the first step of a two-stage operation which eventually saw more than a thousand go free, including hundreds who were serving life for anti-Israeli attacks.
A spokesman for the radical Popular Resistance Committees also hailed the anniversary, vowing to snatch more soldiers in order to free Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.
"The way to free our prisoners will happen through kidnapping more Zionist soldiers. The resistance will not stand paralysed over this commitment," PRC spokesman Abu Mujahed said in a statement sent to AFP.
"All Palestinian resistance factions are seeking to repeat the deal and capture a new Shalit. The way is clear now," he said.
Later in the day, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades was expected to release a video about the operation in which it captured Shalit in a deadly cross-border raid on June 25, 2006.
Hamas is also planning a public celebration in Gaza City, which is due to start around 1330 GMT.