Israel has released 39 women and children prisoners after Hamas freed 13 civilian captives in exchange under a Qatar-mediated deal that includes a four-day truce in Gaza.
Hundreds of Palestinians had gathered in anticipation on Friday outside the Ofer prison, where Israel had transferred those who were to be released, while others congregated in Palestinian towns.
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At 8pm local time (18:00 GMT), two International Committee of the Red Cross buses were seen leaving Ofer.
According to the AFP news agency, 28 prisoners were released in the occupied West Bank, and 11 others were brought to East Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club NGO.
Marah Bakeer, who was among those released in Jerusalem, says she was informed this morning that she was going to be leaving prison.
She told Al Jazeera police carried out a DNA test and told her she would not be allowed to celebrate upon being released.
“I’m a little nervous and stunned; I can’t believe I’m out,” she said.
“The years spent in jail were hard,” Bakeer said. “But I have a strong personality … and faith in God.” Her family’s ongoing support helped her overcome “difficult times” during eight years in detention, she added.
Feride Najeh, who was among the prisoners released in Beitunia, told Al Jazeera that she was “very happy” with the deal.
“We haven’t eaten anything since this morning,” Najeh, who was serving a three-year sentence, said. “They took us in a violent way and they did not let us take our stuff.”
“I am very happy with this deal. I would like to thank Gazan people for their resistance.”
Thirteen Israeli captives, including dual nationals, have been released under the Israel-Hamas deal.
At least 10 Thai nationals and one Filipino were released under a different framework, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, which mediated the separate deal.
The Red Cross has confirmed the release of the 24 civilian captives in Gaza.
Under the Israel-Hamas deal, a total of 150 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails and 50 civilian captives held by Hamas are to be released over a four-day period that will see a pause in fighting in Gaza.
Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from outside Ofer prison, said Israeli forces fired volleys of tear gas at the crowds who had gathered.
Among those gathered at the prison, one woman Al Jazeera spoke to said that she had come all the way from Tulkarem, a city near the boundary with Israel in the West.
On the way, she was “stopped at an Israeli military checkpoint, and heavily interrogated there,” Stratford said, “highlighting the difficulties that Palestinians face in terms of freedom of movement across the occupied territories.”
“Another father of a 17-year-old boy … said he was not going to be celebrating the release because so many thousands of people have been, in his words, ‘martyred’ in the buildup to this deal,” Stratford said, “so again highlighting the mixed emotions here.”
Approximately 8,000 Palestinians remain in Israeli jails, including 3,000 who were detained in the last seven weeks amid increasing Israeli raids across the West Bank.