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'We were for blackmail' escaped Hamas prisoner says

Feb. 6, 2011 9:39 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 8, 2011 9:38 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- "I felt pride and joy when I returned to Gaza, but at the same time I felt such sadness for the raw destruction apparent just on the walk home," Ayman Noufel recalled of his entry into the Gaza Strip after escaping from an Egyptian prison earlier in the week.

"We had heard about the Egyptian revolution and prisoners just called to each other in the cells down the halls saying they decided to break down the bars.

"I broke the door of my cell down with the bed frame and the Egyptian prisoners helped us break open the cell's door. As we ran toward the main gate of the prison some guards shot at us, while neighbors living near the prison broke the gate and set fire to it," he recalled of the escape.

Detained in 2007 after Hamas forces in Gaza ripped a section of the border wall down, allowing thousands of Strip residents to spill into Egypt, where most bought provisions and fuel.

"I left to get things we needed for the house, I was riding in a car and we passed a checkpoint of Egyptian security. I was arrested and taken immediately to the El-Arish police center where I was questioned and tortured for two weeks," Noufel said.

Egyptian officials said he was detained for belonging to Hamas. "I spend nine months at the police center then I was transferred into solitary confinement at the Abu Za’bal prison. After two years another Palestinian man shared the cell with me, and we both stayed there until I manged to escape."

He said he was never told what his charge was.

During the interrogation sessions, Noufal said, "They asked what kind of weaponry Hamas had, how prepared the movement was and what the range of projectiles had reached."

After more than a year in detention, Noufal said he started insisting that he know why he was being held.

"We figured out that we were being used as hostages to blackmail Hamas," he said, adding that the destruction in Gaza when he returned had doubly disturbed him, because he had "not been there with the resistance during the war on Gaza."

As he got close to home following his escape, Noufal said he feared he would not find his family there. "When I saw the lights on I rejoiced," he said.

Now, his wife Wesam Hejazi says, the children refuse to go to school, "they will not leave their father's side for a second, even the youngest who was not even three months old when he was taken, she will not leave the house without him."
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