Palestinian women and youths to be swapped for Israeli hostages

By Ali Sawafta

RAMALLAH (Reuters) -Dozens of Palestinian women and teenagers held prisoner by Israel for periods of a few months to several years will gain their freedom under Wednesday’s deal for the release of 50 Israeli hostages held in Gaza by the Islamist group Hamas.

Jubilant reunions are expected when Palestinian families greet the prisoners on their return as early as Thursday, most of them to their homes in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

Arrested for such offences as attempted stabbings, stone throwings at Israeli soldiers or having contacts with hostile organisations, many were held under administrative detention, meaning Israel held them without trial.

In contrast to previous prisoner swaps, notably the deal under which Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was released by Hamas in 2011, none has been convicted of murdering Israelis.

In that deal, Israel released more than 1,000 prisoners, some convicted of murder, including Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip and one of those held responsible by Israel for a deadly Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel.

The Qatari-brokered accord was the first concrete sign of any halt to the fighting which began with the Oct. 7 attack by hundreds of Hamas gunmen, who seized around 240 Israelis and foreigners as hostages.

Israel has agreed to a four-day truce, the entry of aid to Gaza and the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners in return for the hostages, all children or women.

Another 150 Palestinian prisoners could be freed in return for another 50 hostages in days to come, a Palestinian official said.

“The release of a number of our prisoners during the war is a very important thing,” said Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Authority’s Commission for Prisoners’ Affairs.

“This deal could be a start to change the general atmosphere of this war,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority lost control of Gaza during a 2007 power struggle with Hamas but it regards the besieged enclave as part of a future Palestinian state that includes the West Bank with East Jerusalem as its capital.

It was still unclear exactly who would be released. Israel has issued a list of 300 names, to accommodate potential objections to certain individuals as well as the possibility that the swap could grow beyond its original scale.

For Fares, the main significance of the accord is as a step to a wider end to hostilities.

“The resistance didn’t call this deal a swap deal but it is a deal for truce and ceasefire,” he said.

(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Howard Goller)