CAIRO - Some 550 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli jails late Sunday, December 18, in the second phase of an Egyptian-sponsored swap prisoner deal between Israel and Hamas, The New York Times reported.
"He was just a school kid when he was arrested," Sarah Abu Sneineh said referring to her grandson Izzedine Abu Sneineh who was among the released prisoners.
Izzedine was arrested three years ago at age 15 for throwing stones and hanging Palestinian flags from telephone poles.
"We want him to go back to school. Only education is the way forward," she added.
Young Izzedine was among 550 prisoners released in the second phase of an Egyptian-sponored prisoner swap deal between Israel and Hamas, which saw the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in October after five years in captivity in Gaza.
Officials and witnesses in the West Bank city of Ramallah said the main contingent of freed prisoners entered the city on a fleet of 12 buses at around 10:00 pm (2000 GMT), where thousands of well-wishers awaited them at the Palestinian presidential headquarters.
A small group of 41 crossed at about the same time into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, where about 3,000 jubilant supporters gathered at the border to celebrate their release.
An Israeli prison official said that another two were taken to the border with neighboring Jordan and two more were released at Atarot in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
"The International Red Cross Committee assisted in the process of conveying the prisoners," the Israeli military said in a statement cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
It confirmed that 505 prisoners were transferred to the West Bank and 41 to the Gaza Strip with the remaining four were taken to Jordan and east Jerusalem.
The released prisoners confirmed that they would continue their struggle for the liberation of Palestine.
"I want to thank all the people who were with me, with the struggle of the prisoners, with my struggle and the struggle of my family," Salah Hamuri, 26, a French-Palestinian who was convicted of plotting to assassinate a Jewish religious leader and had been due to complete his seven-year sentence in March, told AFP on Sunday evening.
"I promise that my release will be the beginning of the collective struggle for our common goal, the freedom of our people and the return of Palestinian refugees," he added.
Many Palestinians, however were angry that those being freed were not the ones they would have chosen.
"This is not a serious part of the exchange," Issa Qaraqe, the Palestinian minister of detainees for the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, told The New York Times 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, he added.
Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, Israel was to free 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in return for Shalit.
Last October, Israel freed 450 Palestinian prisoners in the first phase of the exchange as Hamas released Shalit.
This second phase, 550 prisoners, 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.
The released prisoners in the deal did not include Palestinian activist Marwan Barghouti, who serves a life sentence in prison for his role in attacks on Israelis during a Palestinian uprising, or Ahmed Saadat, a resistance leader who master-minded an attack on an Israeli minister in 2001.
There are nearly 9,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.