The five were driven from a prison in central Israel to the West Bank town of Tulkarem, where one of them, 15-year-old Zakariya Shurbaji, told reporters they were only informed of their impending release a day earlier. They were never told that it was part of the deal with Hizbullah, Shurbaji said.
The emotional July swap between Israel and Hizbullah brought back to Israel the bodies of two slain soldiers in return for five live Lebanese prisoners. One was reviled in Israel as the perpetrator of a 1979 attack in which four Israelis were killed, including a civilian and his two young daughters.
Freed prisoner greeted by his family (Photo: Reuters)
As part of the deal, Israel agreed to release some Palestinian prisoners, but sought to minimize the concession by selecting some of the most insignificant offenders. All five freed Wednesday were minors serving short sentences for throwing stones and other objects and were due to be freed next year, according to data posted on the Prisons Authority Web site.
By insisting on the release of a token number of Palestinians, Hizbullah sought to bolster its standing beyond its core following of Shiite Muslims to the broader Arab world.
Four of the youngsters freed Wednesday said they were supporters of the secular Palestinian nationalist Fatah movement and the fifth said he was involved in the radical leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Shurbaji said they were all grateful to Hizbullah's leader.
"I say thank you to Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah for all the efforts he made on our behalf," he said.