The longest-serving Palestinian prisoner, Karim Younis, has been released after serving 40 years in Israeli prisons, Al-Jazeera reports.

Israeli prison authorities released Younis, 66, from Hadarim prison, north of Tel Aviv, at dawn on Thursday morning.

He was arrested in 1983 and charged in Israeli courts with the murder of an Israeli soldier in the Syrian Golan Heights occupied three years earlier.

Younis hails from the Palestinian village of Ara in Israel, where a large crowd of family and friends welcomed him on Thursday.

Younis spoke to Al-Jazeera shortly after his release, comparing it to a “military operation.”

He said he had been shuttled between different police cars before being dropped off at what turned out to be a bus station in Ranana, a city north of Tel Aviv.

There he was able to contact his family, with the help of a passerby.

Reporting from Ara, Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan said Younis was released at 5:30 am (0230 GMT) and people had poured into the streets of his village to welcome him.

“He was a key figure in the Palestinian struggle,” Khan said. “He is seen as someone who was a rising star in Palestinian politics when he was arrested and charged with murder.”

While the vast majority of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails come from the occupied West Bank, Younis is a Palestinian citizen of Israel.

“The Palestinians say he was simply resisting the occupation, the Israelis say it was an internal Israeli matter. He was originally sentenced to life in prison, which was later commuted to 40 years. He is being released simply for the fact that he served his sentence,” Khan added.

Israeli military intelligence visited Younis’s family before his release and “told them not to mark him,” Khan said. However, it seems that the family and the inhabitants of Ara have ignored those instructions.

Younis said officers came to his cell in the early hours of the morning and told him they would release him. “I wanted to shower and get ready, but they stopped me,” he said.

Younis was eventually picked up by a relative and taken to his hometown of Ara.

Israeli authorities have not commented on the reports.

Upon his release, Younis visited the grave of his mother, who died eight months ago, and local and international media shared footage of him emotionally at the grave.