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Calgarians focused on next steps as Palestinians and Israelis freed

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Though Calgary's Palestinian and Jewish communities welcomed the release of captives on Friday, both sides say the next steps are critical for a positive outcome in the Middle East.

The militant group Hamas spent the morning releasing 24 hostages who had been held in Gaza, while Israel freed 39 Palestinians from prison.

It's the first stage of a prolonged swap and a temporary truce.

And that meant Gaza's 2.3 million Palestinians saw quiet for the first time after seven weeks of relentless Israeli bombardment that's killed thousands, driven three-quarters of the population from their homes and flattened vast residential areas, which came in response to the surprise Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

Calgary Palestinian community leader Reyad Abusalim believes the weekend's steps are a good start.

"It's important right now to continue the momentum towards a ceasefire," he told CTV News.

"But we're still frustrated. Everybody knows that right after this truce is done, (IDF forces) will bomb again."

The released Palestinians are 24 women – including some convicted of attempted murder for attacks on Israeli forces – and 15 teenagers jailed for offences such as throwing stones.

Abusalim says there are 9,000 other "political prisoners" which he says are being held unfairly.

He thinks the focus on Hamas hostages has overshadowed "years of Israeli aggression."

On the other side of the swap, the freed Israeli hostages included eight women – six of them in their 70s and 80s – and three children.

Lisa Libin with the Calgary Jewish Federation doesn't see the complete prisoner release as productive.

"(The released Palestinians) are not babies and toddlers, and they're not innocent civilians," she told CTV News.

That's a message Libin was sharing along Stephen Avenue during the afternoon lunch rush.

A group of Jewish community members attempted to bring attention to the captive Israelis by handing out milk cartons with "missing" photos printed on them.

Every carton had a picture of a hostage.

"It's not about the political strife going on," Libin claimed.

"It's about us as humans and us as parents and those who have a sense of humanity. The price of the ceasefire is a big price for Israel to pay in terms of what they have given up in exchange, and that speaks to how much Israel cares about babies and children and the elderly."

That's not the way Abusalim sees things.

"We now need to stop the genocide of the Palestinian people," he said.

"It's simple."

(With files from The Associated Press)

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