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Take more hostages, urges crowd

Tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have celebrated the homecoming of their prisoners and demanded militants seize more Israeli soldiers for future exchanges.

Hamas, which had negotiated the swap for sergeant Gilad Shalit, organised a mass celebration that turned into a show of strength for the Islamic militant movement.

A huge stage was set up, decorated with a mural depicting Shalit's capture in a June 2006 at an army base near the Gaza border.

"The people want a new Gilad," the crowd chanted. Thousands more Palestinian prisoners remain in Israeli jails.

Thousands hoisted green Hamas flags, while a far smaller number raised the banners of rival movement Fatah. The released prisoners were making their way from the border with Egypt, on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip, to Gaza City in the north, and many thousands were lining the street to cheer on the convoy.

In the West Bank, rival Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas addressed a crowd of several thousand, including released prisoners and their relatives. In an attempt at unity, he shared a stage with three Hamas leaders in the West Bank and at one point, the four men raised clasped hands in triumph.

However Mr Abbas is likely to suffer politically as a result of the swap, the most significant for the Palestinians in nearly three decades. Over years of negotiating with Israel, he has only been able to bring about the release of those who had little time left on their sentences.

In contrast, a majority of the 477 prisoners freed had been serving life terms for killing Israelis, and their release violated a long-standing Israeli pledge not to free those with "blood on their hands." An additional 550 were to be freed in two months.

More than 300 of the prisoners arrived in Gaza, the rest in the West Bank.

Among those arriving in Gaza were prisoners who grew up in the West Bank, but were being deported to Gaza. Israel's security chiefs have said they wanted to keep prisoners still deemed dangerous from the West Bank, which has relatively open borders with Israel. Gaza is tightly sealed by an Israeli border fence.

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