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Gilad Shalit deal boosts Hamas in West Bank as Fatah clings to support

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Just last week, "UN Bid" was the phrase here, and Mr. Abbas was still riding a groundswell of support. But that support and fixation on statehood has been at least temporarily overrun by the excitement about the biggest-ever Palestinian prisoner release. Fatah has never secured the release of such a large number of inmates.

At today's gathering, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas congratulated the prisoners, but took the opportunity standing before a crowd to push his statehood agenda.

“The previous talks were built on the basis of 1967 borders,” Mr. Abbas told the prisoners, family members, and supporters who had gathered. “And there must be a stop to settlement construction.”

He praised the prisoners as "freedom fighters" but reminded the crowd that his nonviolent approach had successes, hinting that another prisoner release would follow. Increased stability in the West Bank under Abbas and Prime Minster Salam Fayyad's leadership, has resulted in strong economic growth and the removal of many Israeli checkpoints, easing movement for Palestinians.

“Of course we want a state and a homeland,” says Fatin Bassam Al-Sa’di’s uncle, Marwan al-Sa’di. “But when someone makes a deal like that we have to welcome it.” He declined to disclose which party he supports.

Outside the Muqata and on the streets of Ramallah, green Hamas flags flapped in the wind, an uncommon site in the Fatah support base. Many people sported Hamas headbands and hoisted flags and freed prisoners above the crowds, chanting, “God is Great.”

One man's flag was snatched out of his hands by a plainclothes security officer, who shook his head as he rolled up the green fabric, but many continued to make their support for Hamas, at least for today, clear.

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