Celebrations rippled through Israel and the Palestinian territories on Tuesday as hundreds of prisoners were reunited with their friends and families after a controversial deal between Israel and the Palestinian organization Hamas. Israel agreed to free over a thousand Palestinian prisoners in return for the release of Sergeant Gilad Shalit, who was held by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip for over five years. 447 prisoners were released yesterday, and another 600 will be freed in two months.
Gilad Shalit arrived in his hometown Mitzpe Hilla yesterday, where hundreds had gathered to welcome him home. "How good to have you home," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the soldier.
In Ramallah, on the West Bank, 200,000 people rallied to welcome a group of released Palestinians. President Mahmoud Abbas hailed the released prisoners as "holy warriors" and "freedom fighters," according to the Associated Press.
A jubilant crowd gathered in Gaza City, where the former detainees were received by senior Hamas leaders. "My happiness is indescribable," Azhar Abu Jawas told the Associated Press. Her brother had returned after spending eight years in prison. "This is a reminder God doesn't forget anyone," she said.
42 Palestinians were deported immediately after their release to Syria, Qatar, Jordan and Turkey, Haaretz reports.
Check out photos from the celebrations below: