The former prisoners arrived on three buses at a Lebanese army checkpoint at Kfar Falous, on the edge of the Israeli-occupied zone. Troops kept crowds of relatives and well-wishers about a hundred yards down the road.
Earlier, Israel handed the 60 Lebanese prisoners over to the Red Cross in the second stage of a deal between Lebanon and Israel. Four chose to return to their homes in the occupied zone and one decided to stay in Israel. Lebanese media quoted Red Cross officials as saying the Red Cross mediated the exchange.
The first stage of the deal occurred Thursday, when Lebanon exchanged the remains of an Israeli soldier for the bodies of 40 guerrillas.
Some of the Lebanese prisoners have been held for as long as 14 years, most without trial, on suspicion of aiding guerrillas fighting Israeli forces.
At Kfar Falous, several thousand men, women, and children gathered to greet the prisoners. Flags from the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah and Amal guerrilla groups, as well as the Lebanese Communist Party and the national flag, hung from light poles and trees along the road, reflecting the makeup of those to be released.
Hezbollah supporters shouted "Death to Israel" and some Communist activists wore T-shirts with portraits of South American Communist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
Lebanese officials said with Friday's release, 167 prisoners remain in the Khiam detention camp in the Israeli-occupied zone, or in Israel.
Anis Fouani, 63, said he felt "extreme happiness and joy" as he awaited the arrival of his son, Ali, who was 17 when Israeli forces took him from his home in the occupied zone and jailed him in Khiam 14 years ago.
"We're all with the resistance until the liberation of south Lebanon," he said.
In 1985, Israel declared the border strip a "security zone" to protect northern Israeli towns from attacks. Hezbollah has been fighting to evict the Israelis.
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri were expected to greet the prisoners in Sidon later in the day.
An Israeli government statement said the prisoners to be released did not have "blood on their hands."
The release of prisoners followed the exchange late Thursday of the remains of Israeli Sgt. 1st Class Itamar Ilya for the bodies of 40 Hezbollah, Amal and Communist guerrillas killed in clashes with Israeli forces.
Lebanon received the bodies of the fighters, including the son of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, with full military honors late Thursday. Hariri led the ceremony at Beirut airport, reflecting the government's recognition of the Shiite militants as national heroes.
The bodies were to be buried Saturday.
Written by Hussein Dakroub