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Young Palestinian prisoners freed by Israel describe their imprisonment and their hopes for the future

More Israeli hostages released
More Israeli hostages released as details of captivity emerge 03:13

The temporary cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, already extended for two days with the prospect of a further extension being discussed, has seen the Palestinian militant group release dozens of hostages in return for Israel freeing some 180 Palestinian prisoners.

Among the Palestinians released so far is 17-year-old Ahmed Abu Na'im, who served 12 months in jail for, he says, throwing stones during clashes with Israeli security forces at a protest. Israel charged him with throwing stones as well as "a bomb or incendiary device," which he denies. It was his third arrest in one year.

"They arrest people randomly," Na'im told CBS News in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the larger of the two Palestinian territories. "They accused (me) of things I did not commit."

17-year-old Palestinian Ahmed Abu Na'im was released from prison on Saturday November 25, 2023. Ahmad Abu Naiem

He said conditions in the prison where he was held changed after Hamas' brutal Oct. 7 terror rampage across southern Israel, which saw the group — long designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., Israel and many other nations — kill some 1,200 people and seize more than 200 hostages.

Before the war, "the situation was OK, because they were bringing us food and we did not miss anything, but what we missed was our family. Then the war began. The situation changed and it became humiliating," Na'im told CBS News. "Any new prisoner was coming in, he looked beaten up. We requested medicine or other stuff and they refused to give it to us."

Na'im said many of his fellow prisoners were children, some as young as 12 years old.

"They were treated very badly, especially after the war started," Na'im said. "They were shouting at us and they kept us from the windows and they took away our spoons and plates. They took away our blankets and pillows, and they took away our spare clothes. They would take away the covers on our windows when it rains."

The Israel Prison Authority told CBS News that "minors in IPS custody have all been imprisoned according to court orders, after being charged with serious crimes of various kinds, among them attempted murder, assault and throwing explosives."

It said that it was "not aware of the claims" made by Na'im, but added that all "prisoners and detainees have the right to file a complaint which will be fully examined by official authorities."

"All prisoners are detained according to the provisions of the law," the IPS told CBS News. "All basic rights required by law are fully applied."

Crowds greet 39 freed Palestinian prisoners in West Bank 02:18

Na'im said he learned Saturday that he was being released after initially being told he was just being moved to a new prison.

"After a bit, they handcuffed us and took us. They changed our normal clothes and put us in prisoner suits. After that, the Red Cross came and informed us that we are heading home, and we are part of the exchange deal, and then they returned us to our cells. In the evening, they put us in a bus and drove us," Na'im said.

He said he was happy to see a large crowd gathered to celebrate his homecoming in the West Bank.

Freed Palestinian prisoners (wearing grey shirts) cheer among supporters and relatives after being released from Israeli prisons after Hamas released Israeli hostages, in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, Nov. 26, 2023. FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty

"It was a good feeling," Na'im said, adding that he now wanted "nothing but to live a decent life without occupation."

Nourhan Awad was also among the Palestinians released from prison as part of the deal with Israel. She served eight years after being arrested at age 16 for attempting to stab an Israeli soldier. 

"I can't describe my joy. I am so happy, and I still cannot believe it," Awad, who finished her high school and college studies during her imprisonment, told CBS News. "Yesterday I was in prison, and today I am in my home with my family and loved ones. It is beyond happy, and I can't explain my feelings with words."

A Palestinian woman holds a poster of a prisoner Nourhan
A Palestinian woman holds a poster of prisoner Nourhan Awad during a protest in solidarity with female Palestinian prisoners, held outside the Red Cross office in Gaza City, in a file photo from Dec. 22, 2021. Awad was among the prisoners released by Israel in late November 2023 as part of a temporary cease-fire deal with Hamas. Mahmoud Issa/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

"It is a very difficult experience but I learned a lot," she said. "I understood the value of many things that I did not appreciate before prison… the value of everything, like freedom, the sunlight."

Israel and Hamas agreed to both the initial four-day truce and the two-day extension of it based on terms that called for the release of three Palestinian prisoners by Israel for every one hostage freed by Hamas. 

A Hamas official told CBS News on Wednesday that the group was hoping to negotiate another extension of the temporary cease-fire with Israel, and the group said Tuesday that it was interested in a new deal that would extend the terms to cover the release of Israeli hostages other than women and children. 

So far, Hamas has freed 86 women and children, but more than 160 people, including civilians and Israeli soldiers, were still missing and presumed to be held as hostages in Gaza, the Israeli military said Wednesday. Israel, keeping up its end of the bargain, had released 180 Palestinian prisoners as of Wednesday, according to Qatar's government, which played a key role in mediating the deal.

CBS News correspondent Imtiaz Tyab contributed to this report.

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