The prisoners were released into the welcoming arms of their families. Nineteen female Palestinian security prisoners were released Friday afternoon in exchange for a minute-long videotape of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a deal brokered between Israel and Hamas with German and Egyptian mediation. Eighteen of the prisoners returned to the West Bank, and one to the Gaza Strip.
A number of senior figures in the Palestinian Authority were at Bitunia Checkpoint to receive the prisoners, including Minister of Prisoners Affairs Issa Qaraqi, Chairman of Parliamentary Committee for Prisoners Kadura Fares, and Deputy Minister for Prisoners' Affairs Ziad Abu Ein. The families who awaited their loved ones at the checkpoint played victory songs and songs glorifying prisoners and fighters over a loudspeaker system, yet still maintained a relatively reserved atmosphere.
The Palestine Today agency reported that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to receive the released prisoners. Even though Hamas is behind the swap deal, there was not even one flag waving among the dozens of flags representing various Palestinian affiliations at the checkpoint despite the fact that at least four of the released prisoners are members of the Islamist organization.
One prisoner waving as she leaves Ofer (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Following their release, the prisoners are scheduled to attend a reception ceremony at the Mukataa in Ramallah.
Nahada Farhat Da'areh, a resident of the village of Ayin near Ramallah, was among those released Friday. Her parents Taleb and Rakia arrived that the checkpoint with their daughter's children. Nahada was arrested last May for attempting to stab a soldier at Atara Checkpoint, near Bir Zeit.
Her father told Ynet that the family is happy. "We ask that the president will do everything so that all the female prisoners are released," he said. "The detainment was difficult, but we must join together in order to push out the occupation from our lands. My daughter wanted her voice to be heard against the occupation."
Nahada's mother, Rakia, pointed at her other daughter, whose name is Falasteen, and said, "The imprisonment was difficult. They didn’t let me see my daughter for give months, only her husband and her son. But we are very proud of her and think she committed an act against the occupation, not a crime. It was hard to be all alone with her children. We are very happy that she is being released and hope that all the heroic prisoners are released soon."
Taleb and Rakia Da'areh, Nahada's parents (Photo: Ali Waked)
Nahada's mother said they had another party for her daughter planned at home.
At 9:30 am Nahshon Unit vehicles left the Hadarim prison to the Ofer and Shikma detention facilities carrying the 19 female Palestinian prisoners slated to be released in exchange for a sign of life from captive solider Gilad Shalit.
The convoy of Israel Prison Service vans transporting 18 female Palestinian prisoners as part of the videotape swap deal arrived at Ofer detention center, near Bitunia, just before 11 am.
From there, they were handed over to the Red Cross at 11:30 am, where they awaited the green light from Israel's envoy to Shalit talks Hagai Hadas' authorization before being released via Bitunia Checkpoint near Ramallah and Erez crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel and the Bitunia Checkpoint near Ramallah.
The eighteen female Palestinian prisoners were released at Bitunia Checkpoint. They crossed into Palestinian territory where they were received by their families.
Another female Palestinian prisoner included in the videotape deal was released into the Gaza Strip after being transported to Erez crossing in a UN convoy.
The 20th prisoner slated for release, 20-year-old Roda Habib, will be transferred to Gaza on Sunday. She was added to the list at the last minute, taking the place of Bara'ah al-Malki, who was released Wednesday because her prisoner sentence was up.
Of the 20 prisoners being released in the deal, 14 of them were convicted of attempted murder. Most of them would have finished serving their sentences within the year. Four of them had yet to be convicted, but were being detained for the duration of proceedings.
Shmulik Hadad contributed to this report