Palestinian families rejoice over release in prisoner swap

Over three dozen Palestinian prisoners returned home to a hero’s welcome in the occupied West Bank on Friday following their release from Israeli prisons as part of a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas.

The procession of freed prisoners, some accused of minor offenses and others convicted in attacks, at a checkpoint outside of Jerusalem stoked massive crowds of Palestinians into a chanting, clapping, hand-waving, screaming frenzy.

Fifteen dazed young men, all in stained grey prison sweatsuits and looking gaunt with exhaustion, glided through the streets on the shoulders of their teary-eyed fathers as fireworks turned the night sky to blazing color and patriotic Palestinian pop music blared.

Some of those released were draped in Palestinian flags, others in the green flags of Hamas. They flashed victory signs as they crowd-surfed.

“I have no words, I have no words,” said newly released 17-year-old Jamal Brahma, searching for something to say to the hordes of jostling journalists and thousands of chanting Palestinians, many in national dress. “Thank God.”

Tears fell down his father Khalil Brahma’s cheeks as he brought his son down from his shoulders and looked him in the eye for the first time in seven months. Israeli forces had arrested Jamal at his home in the Palestinian city of Jericho last spring and detained him without charge or trial.

“I just want to be his father again,” he said.

The release of the Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails came just hours after two dozen hostages, including 13 Israelis, were released from captivity in Gaza in the initial exchange of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners during the four-day cease-fire that started Friday.

Under the deal, Hamas is to release at least 50 hostages, and Israel 150 Palestinian prisoners, over the four days. Israel said the truce can be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed.

-BEITUNIA, West Bank (AP)

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