‘I won’t believe it until I see it’: Palestinians gather to greet freed prisoners | Palestinian territories #wont #Palestinians #gather #greet #freed #prisoners #Palestinian #territories

As the sun began to set on Friday, thousands of Palestinians began to gather at an Israeli checkpoint north of Jerusalem, next to the notorious Ofer military prison, in the hopes that imprisoned loved ones would be returned as part of a ceasefire deal in the seven-week-old war between Israel and Hamas.

Qatari officials said 39 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails were released on Friday night, in exchange for the safe return of 13 Israelis held in the Gaza Strip as hostages since Hamas attacked communities around the south of the country last month, sparking the deadliest round of fighting in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict to date.

After weeks of frantic diplomatic efforts brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the US, Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian group in control of Gaza, agreed a four-day ceasefire that went into effect on Friday at 7am (5am GMT), 24 hours later than originally planned.

Families across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories waited anxiously for news that the pause in hostilities was holding, and the hostage releases could begin; the families of the first tranche of 13 Israeli children and elderly women to be released were informed by Israeli authorities on Friday morning to gather at a hospital complex before their expected arrival.

For the Palestinians, the details remained unclear, after the Israeli justice ministry published the names of 300 women and children who would be considered for release – but there was no forthcoming information about when, where or how they would be released. Qatar later said 24 women and 15 children and teenagers were released in the first tranche.

“Noorhan was only 16 years old when she was arrested. Now she is 24, and we haven’t been able to visit her since the war started,” said her mother, Najah Awad, 43. The young woman was sentenced to 13 years for stabbing an Israeli passerby in Jerusalem with scissors, later dropped to 10.

“I knew from the newspaper when they published the names, I am really happy, but I will not believe it until I see it. We prepared her room for her can’t wait for her to be home.”

The ceasefire deal includes a clause stipulating that after the initial four-day ceasefire for every 10 hostages that come home safely, there will be an additional day in which fighting is paused, up to a total of 10 days, and three times as many Palestinians in Israeli jails released.

The hostage swap deal has also shone a light on Israeli detention and sentencing practices in the Palestinian territories, where Palestinians are tried in military courts with a more than 98% conviction rate and in which minors are regularly imprisoned.

All but four on the list of 300 are from the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israel refused to release anyone sentenced for murder; most are held for stone-throwing, damaging property, having contact with “hostile” organisations, and more serious charges such as attempted murder and manufacturing explosives.

About 1,200 Israelis were killed and 240 taken hostage on 7 October, after which Israel declared a war on the Palestinian militant group, one which has killed more than 14,000 people, according to the local health ministry. The seven-week-old war has destroyed more than 40% of the strip’s housing stock, the UN says, as well as medical infrastructure, and left the territory’s population of 2.3 million facing a severe humanitarian crisis with inadequate water, food, fuel and medicine.

Israel has a history of agreeing to asymmetric prisoner swaps: in 2011, Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, returned home after five years of captivity in the Gaza Strip in exchange for 1,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Four hostages had previously been released by Hamas unilaterally: Judith Tai Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter, Natalie Raanan, a woman and daughter with dual Israeli-US citizenship, on 20 October, followed by two elderly Israeli women, Yocheved Lifshitz and Nurit Yitzhak, on 23 October. One soldier, a 19-year-old, was rescued by Israeli forces.

Militant groups in the strip have said that several hostages have been killed by Israeli bombings, but only one death has been confirmed by Israeli authorities.

#wont #Palestinians #gather #greet #freed #prisoners #Palestinian #territories

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