Text size

Palestinian women ululated with joy and gunmen fired into the air to welcome hundreds of prisoners who returned home Monday in the largest Israeli prison release in nearly a decade.

Israel released 500 Palestinian security prisoners Monday, as part of a package of goodwill gestures to the Palestinian Authority and its chairman, Mahmoud Abbas.

Crowds swarmed around buses ferrying the prisoners from five drop-off points on the outskirts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, where they underwent final checks by Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials, to Palestinian towns. The freed prisoners smiled broadly and flashed V-for-victory signs.

Each prisoner was required to sign a pledge declaring that he would not engage in any future terrorist activity. The government approved the release of the prisoners earlier this month.

Israel plans to release an additional 400 prisoners within the next three months. A joint Israeli-Palestinian ministerial committee will decide which prisoners will be freed in the second round.

On Sunday, 16 Palestinians who had been deported to the Gaza Strip, most of them administrative detainees, were allowed to return to the West Bank with 38 members of their families.

Another group of 39 deportees to the Gaza Strip and overseas, who were holed up in the Church of the Nativity, have also been granted permission to return to the West Bank.

On Sunday, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition against the prisoner release. The Almagor organization, which represents victims of terror, had filed the petition on the grounds that only 200 of the 500 had served two-thirds of their sentences.