Another 550 Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails

Israel/PalestineMiddle East
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A Palestinian prisoner is greeted by a relative after his release at the Rafah border crossing in southern Gaza Strip on Sunday. Photo: Eyad Baba Associated Press

This feels bitter sweet. While it is indeed precious whenever political prisoners are released from captivity, because of the framework of the prisoner exchange negotiations between Hamas and Israel, the second phase of Palestinian prisoners released Sunday night in exchange for Galid Shalit’s October release were Israel’s choice this time around. Unsurprisingly, many of the prisoners released had very little time left to serve, thankfully some were children, and according to Ethan Bronner, all were categorized as light security prisoners.

Israel chose to release the prisoners at night. Jubilant crowds gathered in anticipation and celebrations followed, complete with tear gas, rubber bullets and arrests from Israel’s military forces overseeing the Occupation of Palestine.

Guy Azriel and Enas Muthaffar, CNN

Thousands of Palestinians celebrated the release Sunday night of 550 inmates from Israeli prisons……The revelry in the Mukataa compound in Ramallah — the long-timehome to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat — ran late into the night. Tayeb Abdel Rahim, general-secretary in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ office, was among those officials greeting the line of freed prisoners, as they all paid their respects at Arafat’s grave.

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At least 20 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were injured in the Sunday evening skirmishes at the Beitunia crossing, according to Palestinian and Israeli officials.

Samer Abu Ali, spokesman for the Palestinian medical relief services in Ramallah, told CNN that many of the Palestinians suffered injuries from inhaling tear gas and from rubber bullets fired by the Israeli security forces at the families and friends of the soon-to-be-released prisoners.

Palestinian independent lawmaker and political activist Mustafa Barghouti, who was at the scene of the clashes, told CNN that he had been sprayed with foul-smelling water used to disperse crowds and had been overcome by tear gas.

An Israeli military spokesman said some 400 Palestinians were engaged in an “illegal riot” at the crossing point and were throwing rocks and burning tires. The spokesman said soldiers were using riot control methods to disperse the crowds.

Ethan Bronner, NYT

This second phase involved what the Israelis call light security prisoners. None had been convicted of killing or wounding anyone, and none were members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

About half of the prisoners were serving four years or less, and a third of them two years or less, often for offenses like throwing stones or incendiary bombs or possessing weapons. About 10 percent had sentences of 10 years or more, mostly for throwing or planting bombs or attempted murder. Ten percent are younger than 18; three of the prisoners are 14 years old.

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“This is not a serious part of the exchange,” Issa Qaraqe, the Palestinian minister of detainees for the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, said in a telephone interview. “Many of those being released were due to get out within months anyway, and there are women left behind and prisoners who have been there a long time. If Israel had wanted to make a real good-will gesture, the list would have been totally different.”

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In Gaza, a spokesman for Hamas, Salah al-Baradweel, said Israel seemed to be punishing Gaza by freeing so few prisoners from there: 41 of the 550.

Jihan Abdalla and Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters

Nearly all of the prisoners passed through a crossing into the West Bank and were greeted by thousands of Palestinians who danced and cheered in the city of Ramallah……..”My feelings of joy are mixed with sorrow because we left behind beloved brothers, we hope all of them will be freed,” said Samer Aweidat, who was released after serving four years of a six-year sentence for weapons possession and being a member of a miltant group.

Israel’s Supreme Court opened the way for Sunday’s release to go ahead by turning down a petition Friday from Israelis opposed to freeing the prisoners, whose terms ranged from a few months to 18 years.

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Hani Habib, a political analyst in Gaza, said that Israel, given the opportunity to pick which prisoners would be freed in the second stage, chose inmates from Fatah rather than Hamas.

“Israel was interested in turning the victory that has been achieved into a Palestinian discomfort and a Palestinian division with its discrimination,” he said.

Hamas said it would petition Egypt to pressure Israel into freeing all the Palestinian women in its jails, something it had wanted to happen in Sunday’s release.

Congratulations to Palestine and especially all the reunited families enjoying the presence of loved ones today, especially the children.

A shout out to Israel’s Supreme Court for turning down a petition Friday from Israelis seeking to renege on Israel’s obligation to release the second group of Palestinians prisoners from Israeli jails.

A huge shout out to Hamas for holding strong and brokering this deal. While it isn’t everything we hope for, there are families across Palestine united and fathers and brothers and sisters and mothers in the arms of their long-missed relations because of your determined sumud.

And finally, thank you Egypt and the Arab Spring for your part in making this happen, this was a long time coming.

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