Relief and sadness for Palestinian prisoners freed in Gaza hostage deal
Thirty nine Palestinian women and minors detained on various charges were freed
BEITUNIA, West Bank (Reuters) - For the families of Palestinian detainees freed by Israel under a hostage deal agreed with the Islamist group Hamas, Friday brought relief tinged with sadness at the fighting that is set to continue in Gaza after the expiry of a four-day truce.
Thirty nine Palestinian women and minors detained on various charges were freed under an accord brokered by Qatar that also saw the release of 13 Israeli hostages seized by Hamas gunmen during their assault on Israel last month.
"There is no real joy, even this little joy we feel as we wait," said Sawsan Bkeer, the mother of 24-year-old Palestinian prisoner Marah Bkeer, jailed for eight years on knife and assault charges in 2015. Israeli police were seen raiding her Jerusalem home before her daughter was released.
"We are still afraid to feel happy and at the same time, we do not have it in us to be happy due to what is happening in Gaza," she said.
More than 100 more Palestinian prisoners are due to be released over the coming four days and more may be freed if the truce is extended.
In Beitunia, a city near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, a large crowd, mostly of young men, greeted freed prisoners by cheering, honking car horns and marching in the street carrying Palestinian flags.
Some in the crowd also carried the flag of the Hamas militant group that rules blockaded Gaza and chanted in support of Abu Ubaida, the spokesperson of the group's armed wing.
"I can't express how I feel. Thank God," said 17-year-old Laith Othman, who was detained earlier this year on suspicion of throwing an incendiary device and released on Friday. "The situation inside (prison) is very difficult," he said as he was carried along the street on someone's shoulders.
Israeli commanders have vowed to free all the hostages as they prepare to pursue the campaign in Gaza launched in the wake of the Hamas attack, in which 1,200 Israelis and foreigners were killed, according to Israeli tallies.
Around 14,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and the ground operation launched last month and the military says it is preparing for the next stage of the operation once the truce ends.
Ismail Shaheen, speaking from the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, said he was waiting to see his daughter Fatima, who was arrested earlier this year, accused of an attempted stabbing.
The 32-year-old computer scientist, who has a 5-year-old daughter, was shot during her arrest. Shaheen said he was surprised to see his daughter in a wheelchair when he was first allowed to visit her in prison, months after she was detained.
"Thank God she was released in this exchange deal," he said. "We were happy that she was going to be released but only slightly so, because we cannot ignore the dire conditions of our brothers in Gaza, where thousands have been killed."