BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The return to the West Bank of 18 released prisoners who were deported to the Gaza Strip has been postponed until after the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, Palestinian officials said Wednesday.
A year on from their release, the ex-prisoners are due to return to their homes in the West Bank. They were freed under the Oct. 2011 prisoner swap deal between Israel and Hamas and exiled to Gaza for one year.
The PA detainee affairs minister told Ma'an that Egyptian mediators were coordinating the ex-prisoners' return to the West Bank.
Issa Qaraqe said Hamas had asked Egypt to delay the transfer until after the Muslim holiday, which begins Oct. 26, so ex-prisoners who have married women in Gaza could spend Eid with their wives.
Abdullah Qandil, spokesman for the Gaza-based Waed Prisoner Association, told Ma'an that Israel has refused to allow the prisoners' wives to accompany them to the West Bank.
Hamas official Salih al-Arouri said the postponement was due to Israeli preconditions which breached the original agreement.
Al-Arouri said Egyptian mediators would overcome obstacles to the ex-prisoners' return and that technical arrangements were needed to guarantee that the former prisoners could return home with their wives.
Meanwhile, some of the 18 ex-prisoners have gone to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj pilgrimage, he added.
The released prisoners who will return to the West Bank have been identified as:
-- Abed al-Shalabi
-- Mohammad Takatqa
-- Mahmoud Sireya
-- Mohammad Balout
-- Bilal Zaraa
-- Huthayfa Ghanem
-- Hamzeh Zayed
-- Atyieh Abu Asab
-- Imad al-Masri
-- Talal al-Kabash
-- Loai al-Kronz
-- Abed Ali
-- Bassem Nazzal
-- Mahmud Hanani
-- Rateb al-Ajrab
-- Mohammad Masalmeh
-- Nedal Hamed
-- Mansour Rayyan
Israel exiled 163 prisoners to the Gaza Strip and 40 more to other countries in the region in the swap deal to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.