Freedom at last for Israel's lost son

After spending five years in solitary confinement, Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was freed in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners

Looking thin, weary and dazed, an Israeli soldier returned home yesterday from more than five years of captivity in the Gaza Strip in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners whose joyful families greeted them with massive celebrations.

Israeli soldier hugs his father Noam along with Israeli PM Benjamin
Netanyahu. The soldier, in a TV appearance, said he wished this deal
helped achieve peace between both sides, Israel and the Palestinians

Gilad Shalit, in a brief interview with Egyptian TV before being transferred to Israel, said he was "very excited" to taste freedom and had missed his family and friends. He said he feared he would remain in captivity "many more years" and worried since being told of the deal last week that last-minute hitches might cause it to collapse.

"Of course I missed my family. I missed friends, meeting people to talk to people, and not to sit all day, to do the same things," he said.

Shalit enjoys a family reunion after being taken prisoner by the military
group Hamas five years back

But Shalit's physical appearance raised questions about the condition of his captivity in the hands of the Hamas militant group. The 25-year-old appeared pale and gaunt, shifted in his seat, struggled to breathe and seemed to mumble as he answered the questions.

Later, video released by the military showed him being helped into an army jeep after crossing the border into Israel, and walking gingerly down a set of steps from a military caravan after changing his clothes into a fresh army uniform. Still, military officials said a physical exam had found him to be in good shape.

Later, he was flown on a helicopter to an air base in central Israel for a reunion with his family hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

And it was a happy moment for the families of the Palestinian prisoners
too. Hundreds of people gathered in Ramallah, Palestine to celebrate the
return of prisoners freed under a swap deal with Israel.
Pics/afp, getty images

Fight terror
Netanyahu told an audience that he understood the pain of Israeli families who lost relatives in Palestinian violence, but that Israel's ethos of doing everything possible to bring its soldiers home safely forced him to act.
He also issued a warning to the freed militants. "We will continue to fight terror and every released terrorist who returns to terror will be held accountable," he said.

Hamas agreed to release Schalit in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, many of them serving life sentences for attacks on Israelis. The arrivals of the prisoners set off celebrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "My happiness is indescribable," said Azhar Abu Jawad, a woman who celebrated the return of a brother who had been sentenced to life for killing an Israeli in 1992.

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