First Gaza families visit jailed relatives in Israel

The BBC's Jon Donnison: "It's a pretty arduous journey, with lots of security checks"

Palestinian families from Gaza have have been allowed to visit their jailed relatives in Israel for the first time in five years.

A group of 40 people crossed from Gaza into southern Israel en route to Ramon prison.

Israel agreed to the move in May as part of deal to end a mass hunger strike by Palestinian detainees.

Family visits were halted in 2007 after the militant Islamist group Hamas came to power in Gaza.

'Indescribable excitement'

In all, 24 prisoners from Gaza are meeting their relatives on Monday.

Israel Prisons Service spokeswoman Sivan Weizman was quoted as saying that the visits would last two hours.

Among those visiting Israel is Fatima Nashbat, who has not seen her husband Mohammed Jaber for six years.

"I don't know what the meeting will be like, but of course my excitement is indescribable and I can't wait to see him," she told the AFP news agency.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who is which is co-ordinating the visits, welcomed the move.

"This is a first step and we hope that visits by residents of Gaza will resume in full," Juan Pedro Schaerer, head of the ICRC in Israel and the Palestinian territories, said in a statement.

The ICRC will be watching to see whether the policy is extended to the more than 550 Palestinian prisoners with close relatives in Gaza, the BBC's Jon Donnison in Jerusalem reports.

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