REPORTING FROM RAMALLAH, WEST BANK -- Adnan Zalloum was 25 when he was sentenced to three life terms in jail plus 33 years for killing three Israelis and wounding five others in a Jerusalem stabbing spree.
Now 47, Zalloum was among the first 477 Palestinian prisoners freed Tuesday in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
“I was always sure I would return home,” the white-bearded Zalloum, a member of the radical Islamic Jihad group, said shortly after his return home to Ramallah to cheering and flag-waving crowds.
His family, though, was not so sure.
“We had lost hope of his release because previous attempts to exchange prisoners have failed,” said Zalloum’s mother, Fadwa, 72. “All I want now is to have him here with me so that I can see him every day and be able to hold him and kiss him whenever I want.”
The family butchered two lambs in the street outside their two-story home to celebrate his return. Many of his younger relatives had never seen him before.
Zalloum’s niece, 21-year-old university student Aya Fuqaha, visited him in prison many years ago.
“He looks much older today and seems fatigued,” she said.
Zalloum’s family had waited for hours at Beitunia, southwest of Ramallah, with other dancing and singing families for the buses that would bring inmates from the Ofer military prison only to learn that they would not be coming through that checkpoint.
The families scrambled to get to the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah, where Zalloum’s mother, brothers and sisters were finally able to hold and kiss him, without being separated by bars or glass.
Brother Raed said he wants Zalloum to get married, start a family and settle down.
“It is time for him to quit politics and look after his interest," he said. "He has done enough for the country and has caused enough suffering for his family. We just want him to settle down and have a life.”
-- Maher Abukhater
Photo: Palestinians from the West Bank wait on Tuesday for prisoners to be released from Ofer, an Israeli military prison. Credit: Atef Safadi / EPA