24 Palestinian women, 15 minors freed from prison in first deal for Gaza hostages

Prisoners were taken to Ofer Prison in West Bank for Red Cross health checks before release in exchange for 13 Israeli hostages; crowds gather in Ramallah to welcome them

An Israeli prison transport vehicle carries Palestinian prisoners released by the Israeli authorities from Ofer military prison near Jerusalem on Nov. 24, 2023 as part of a deal in which the Hamas terror group released 13 hostages held in Gaza. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
An Israeli prison transport vehicle carries Palestinian prisoners released by the Israeli authorities from Ofer military prison near Jerusalem on Nov. 24, 2023 as part of a deal in which the Hamas terror group released 13 hostages held in Gaza. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The Israel Prison Service on Friday evening released 39 Palestinian security prisoners as part of a hostage deal with Hamas that saw 13 Israeli hostages released from Gaza, where they have been held since October 7.

Shortly before noon the Prison Service transferred the prisoners to Ofer Prison in the West Bank, where they underwent a Red Cross health examination.

The prisoners — 24 women and 15 minors — were then transferred to the Beitunia checkpoint close to Ramallah.

Despite efforts by Israeli security services for the release of the Palestinian prisoners not to be seen as a celebration, footage circulated on social media showed crowds gathering around the Red Cross bus in Ramallah on Friday evening.

Once the 13 hostages held in Gaza were transferred back to Israel, the 39 were released to their homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In total, 50 Israeli hostages — children, their mothers and other women — are to be released over a four-day pause in fighting in exchange for 150 Palestinian security prisoners.

The deal is the first one to have been made following October 7, when Hamas burst into southern Israel, killed at least 1,200 people and seized some 240 hostages.

The deal provides for the truce to be extended by an extra day for every ten additional Israeli hostages released by Hamas, with three Palestinian security prisoners to be freed in exchange for each Israeli hostage freed.

While the names of the 39 Palestinian prisoners released on Friday were not immediately made public, an unnamed Palestinian source confirmed that the group comprises 24 women and 15 minors, the youngest of whom is said to be 14 years old.

People gather on a hill overlooking the Ofer military facility in Baytunia in the West Bank as they wait for the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli hostages freed by Hamas in Gaza on November 24, 2023 (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

The group was said to include inmates who committed stabbing attacks against Israelis, although nobody on the list of prisoners who could potentially be released has been convicted of murder.

Of 300 prisoners on a list from which those who may be released are being drawn, 74 are East Jerusalem residents, while the majority are from Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank. A small number of prisoners are reportedly Gaza residents who crossed into Israel in recent years.

Many of the prisoners are affiliated with Hamas, Fatah, or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but some have no known affiliations with any groups.

According to CNN, the most common charges the prisoners were convicted for include stone-throwing and “harming regional security.”

Other charges include supporting terror organizations, illegal weapons charges and incitement, the report said.

One of the women slated for release is 16-year-old Nafoz Hamad, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison just two weeks ago after she was found guilty of stabbing her neighbor Moriah Cohen in the back in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in December 2021.

The oldest individual who could potentially be released is 59-year-old Hanan Barghouti, who was convicted on charges of supporting terrorism.

Israel Prison Service Commissioner Katy Perry arrived at Damon Prison on Friday morning ahead of the slated release.

“This is our mission, for the return home of the hostages, and we will do it to the best of our ability,” she told the prison staff. “We have long days ahead of us and we will be vigilant in order to fulfill our mission, in cooperation with all the security forces.”

On Thursday, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir held an assessment with top commanders from the police and prison services in order to prepare for any unrest caused by the prisoner releases.

He instructed Perry to quash any attempts to celebrate prisoner releases within incarceration facilities and told Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to use “an iron first” against attempts to celebrate the release or to support terrorism.

Shabtai was also instructed to increase police presence in the hometowns of the released prisoners that fall inside the Green Line.

In particular, Ben Gvir instructed Shabtai to pay close attention to celebrations in East Jerusalem, where there is a substantial police presence.

Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.

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