Hamas on Tuesday released Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from more than five years in captivity, handing him over to Egyptian security forces who the passed him to Israel. At 10.30 the Israel Defense Forces confirmed that the IDF sergeant-major was now on Israeli soil, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Shalit's parents that their son would be with them "in a short while." Noam Shalit father earlier told Israeli television that it was the happiest day of his life.
Initial medical exams carried out by the IDF found the 25-year-old in good health, IDF spokesman Yoav Mordechai said.
Speaking to Egyptian television before being transferred to Israel, Gilad Shalit said: "I hope this deal will help the conclusion of a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. I hope co-operation and links between the two sides will be consolidated." He added: "I miss meeting normal people to talk to them to tell them about my experience... I have a lot to do when I'm free." Gilad Shalit said he had received the news of his release a week ago and felt this could be the last chance to free him.
As part of the prisoner exchange deal, Israel freed a first batch of 477 convicted Palestinian terrorists and criminals from Israeli jails shortly before Shalit was released. It was the first group of more than 1,000 Palestinians being swapped for Shalit's freedom.
The World Jewish Congress (WJC) welcomed the news of the release. “Gilad is finally coming home, which is wonderful news for his family and the entire Jewish people,” WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said in a first reaction, adding: “Despite the enormously painful price that only Israel would consider paying, Jewish communities across the globe stand side by side with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Cabinet’s decision, and they salute Noam and Aviva Shalit for their courage. Their relentless struggle has finally paid off.”
The WJC president thanked the Egyptian government, the German mediator and the many others who helped to secure Shalit’s release for their tireless efforts. “Prime Minister Netanyahu deserves much credit for taking a brave decision. Despite the heavy price that Israel will pay to Hamas, it was right to conclude the deal,” Lauder said. He pointed out: “Hamas fights for the well-being of terrorists much more that it fights for the wellbeing of ordinary citizens.”
WJC Secretary-General Dan Diker said: “In part it is the 3,000-year-old Jewish commandment to redeem captives that has brought the leadership of the Jewish nation-state to pay a huge price in this 1,000 for 1 prisoner exchange. The return of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including many directly involved in some of the worst terrorist attacks in Israel’s history, to Gaza and the West Bank substantially increases the terrorist threat to Israel. It is therefore vital that Israel retain defensible borders in the strategically vital West Bank, especially the Jordan Valley to prevent terrorists from firing rockets on Tel Aviv or Ben Gurion Airport."
He added that “Israel will also need to maintain its vitally important inspections of potential arms ships from Iran and elsewhere attempting to supply Hamas with advanced weaponry. It is in the interest of the world community to support Israel in this task.”