February 21, 2024

A total of 39 Palestinian detainees have been released from Israeli prisons in exchange for a group of hostages held by Hamas.

The deal – mediated by Qatar – includes a four-day pause in the fighting.

They are accused of a range of offences, from throwing stones to attempted murder. Some were convicted while others were awaiting trial.

The group of 24 women and 15 teenage boys was released across the Beituniya checkpoint in the occupied West Bank.

They will then be allowed to return home, according to Israel’s prison service.

The detainees were chosen from a list of 300 women and minors compiled by Israel.

Less than a quarter of those on the list have been convicted – the vast majority are being held on remand while awaiting trial. Most of those listed are teenage boys – 40% of them under the age of 18. There is also one teenage girl and 32 women.

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Earlier, the road by Beituniya checkpoint, near Ramallah, was sharp with the smell of tear gas. Groups of Palestinian men and boys faced the Israeli army lining up on the road ahead.

The army fired rubber bullets and tear gas towards the crowd, to push them back.

Some of the young people gathered threw stones and tear gas canisters back towards the troops.

“It’s a sign of hope for Palestinians and Israelis that the ceasefire will continue and the killing will stop,” Mohammed Khatib, who was in the crowd, told the BBC.

Upon the prisoners’ release, the bus that transported them inched its way through a sea of jubilant Palestinian supporters.

Through the windows, some of the prisoners could be seen dancing, one wrapped in a Palestinian flag. Outside, mobile phones were raised to the glass amid ululations and shouts of welcome and “God is great”.

A few in the crowd waved Hamas flags, but others spoke of Palestinian unity, a small moment of victory in the midst of a gruelling war.

For Israel, the released prisoners are a security threat; for the Palestinians gathered here to greet them, they are victims of Israel’s occupation – and their release is a symbol.

Thirteen Israeli hostages were released by Hamas under the truce deal. It was confirmed on Friday that they had arrived back in Israel.

The Thai prime minister says that a group of Thai nationals held hostage by Hamas in Gaza were also released – separate from the Qatar-mediated truce deal.

Israel and Hamas reached a deal earlier this week to release 50 of the hostages held in Gaza during four-day pause in fighting.

The agreement should see a total of 150 Palestinians held in Israeli jails released and a significant increase in humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza. Some 60 lorries carrying medical supplies, fuel and food entered from Egypt on Friday.

Hamas took more than 200 hostages during a cross-border attack on southern Israel on 7 October in which 1,200 people were killed.

Human rights organisations say the number of Palestinians held without charge in Israeli jails has shot up since the 7 October attacks.

There are now thought to be more than 6,000 Palestinians held by Israel on security grounds – many still awaiting trial.

Almost every Palestinian family in the West Bank is thought to have had a relative detained by Israel at some point in the past – often in jails inside Israel, making it difficult or impossible for their relatives to visit.

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