Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Minister Hisham Abd al-Razzaq was less than impressed by the releases.
“These liberations can be seen as a public relations operation,” Abd al-Razzaq said. “It is the fruit of an understanding between Egypt and Israel which has no effect on our relations with Israel or the peace process.”
Aljazeera’s correspondent reporting from Ram Allah, Wail al-Shiyukhi, said 13 freed detainees from the Ofar jail, west of the city, immediately headed to the graveside of the late Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat in Ram Allah to pray for the deceased and pay their respects.
Some of the former detainees then spoke to Aljazeera.
Isam Abu Kafia, an activist for the mainstream Fatah movement, told Aljazeera he was pleased to be free, but pointed out he had only a year left to serve of a four-and-a-half year sentence.
“We don’t have any feeling of elation because our colleagues are still stuck in prison. The majority of prisoners released were due to have finished their sentences in the next few days,” he said.
Abu Mujahid, a Palestinian detainee, told Aljazeera: “Detainees still jailed in Israeli prisons have been angered with this release programme as Israel has freed those whose sentences have almost finished.”
No real concession
“Only Fatah detainees have been released, ignoring those belonging to other Palestinian organisations. This release programme is designed to trigger conflict between Palestinian groups”
He says it is clear the process is unfair and discriminatory and most of all Israel has made no real concessions.
“Only Fatah detainees have been released, ignoring those belonging to other Palestinian organisations,” Abu Mujahid added.
“This reminds us of the failed Oslo Accords in which this type of discrimination was blatant.
“Hundreds of detainees were jailed long before the Oslo Accords; why have they not been released either?
“This release programme is designed to trigger conflict between Palestinian groups,” Abu Mujahid said. “We hope this will not cause tension.”
Egypt’s lost opportunity
Abu Mujahid thanked the Egyptians for their efforts in attempting to assist the Palestinian people, but criticised them for not taking full advantage of the situation.
“Through Aljazeera, we thank our brothers in Egypt for their efforts in serving the Palestinian people,” Abu Mujahid said.
“However, we blame Egypt for releasing the convicted Israeli spy Azzam Azzam.”
“This man is now an active member of the Likud party. It was thought that Israel would pay a very expensive price for his release. But unfortunately, this opportunity was not well-utilised by our brothers in Egypt,” he added.
“Many other detainees could have been freed in return for the release of the convicted spy, particularly those who have long-term sentences,” Abu Mujahid said.
More Egyptian detainees
“There are even some Egyptian detainees here in Israeli prisons.
Freed detainees say Egypt could
“The Egyptian prisoner Iyad Abu Hasna has been jailed for more than 16 years.
“Why has Egypt not demanded releasing its own detainees in return for releasing Azzam Azzam?
“Abu Hasna is living under miserable conditions. Women and children have also been jailed by the Israelis and are living under much more difficult conditions than male detainees,” he added.
In a weekend campaign speech, Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazin) demanded that Israel release all Palestinian prisoners, including Marwan al-Barghuthi, a popular senior Palestinian leader.
“I respect every prisoner that is released but we need a serious release process,” Abbas said.
Message for Abbas
Abd Allah Husain, 43, spent 11 months in the Ketziot military prison in southern Israel. He had five months left on his sentence.
“We are not satisfied with this deal. My brothers gave me a message for Abu Mazin that he should make the prisoners a top priority,” Husain said.
In Gaza, Ahmad Shaqura, 24, said he had only 23 days left on a two-year term. “It means nothing,” said Shaqura, a Fatah member.
Palestinian detainees have
Correspondent Al-Shiyukhi added: “The release of 159 Palestinian detainees has been successful and they immediately went to pray for the deceased in Ram Allah.
“Secretary General of the Palestinian Presidency Al-Tayib Abd al-Rahim had welcomed the freed detainees and thanked God for their safe return.”
Abd al-Rahim confirmed their release was an initial process, adding that the Palestinian Authority would try hard to release all Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails.
“More detainees are expected to be released after negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, through Egyptian mediation,” he added.
Difficult living conditions
Ahmad Walid, a released detainee, told Aljazeera: “Detainees are being exposed to extremely difficult living conditions.”
“We, the released detainees, were transferred from Ofar and other central prisons, to al-Naqab jail. We were then released on Monday morning.”
“I was sentenced to five years in jail, and had already finished four,” Walid said. “I wish they had released other detainees, who have long-term sentences, are ill or some female prisoners,” he said.
“I call on the Palestinian Authority to demand and ensure the release of all detainees, particularly the elderly, ill and females”
“The old, sick and female detainees deserve to be released more than I do, as I still have only one year to serve,” he added.
“I call on the Palestinian Authority to demand and ensure the release of all detainees, particularly the elderly, ill and females,” Walid said.
“All the released prisoners have said there are many other detainees who deserve to be freed more than they do,” the correspondent said.