Sergeant-Major Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier kidnapped in June 2006 by Hamas close to the border area between Israel and Gaza, returned home to Israel yesterday. Shalit was released as part of a deal which also saw 1027 Palestinians convicted of acts of terror and security related offenses freed. Shalit entered Israel just after 11 am yesterday, and was met by officers from the IDF Southern Command and the IDF Medical Corps. He underwent initial medical examinations and was then flown to Tel Nof airbase where he was reunited with his family, and greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. Shalit later flew to his home in Mitzpeh Hila, a village in northern Israel.
There were some concerns regarding the state of health of Gilad Shalit, who appeared to be very gaunt – belying claims by his Hamas captors that he had been better treated than Palestinian prisoners in Israel while in captivity. Obliged to give an interview to the Egyptian media before crossing the border into Israel (a move which has led to anger and criticism in Israel of the Egyptian authorities), Shalit appeared also to have difficulty answering questions. Israeli officials later said that he showed signs of malnutrition. According to reports, Shalit also has Vitamin D deficiency, caused by lack of exposure to sunlight. In an impromptu press conference outside his Mitzpeh Hila home last night, Noam Shalit, father of Gilad, said that Gilad was also still suffering the effects of wounds sustained during his kidnap, which had been insufficiently treated, and also from the effects of being deprived of sunlight. Noam Shalit likened receiving Gilad from captivity to experiencing the birth of his son anew.
Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the release of Gilad Shalit and said, ‘I know that people across Britain will share in the joy and relief felt by Gilad Shalit and his family today. I can only imagine the heartache of the last five years, and I am full of admiration for the courage and fortitude which Sergeant Shalit and his family have shown through his long cruel and unjustified captivity. I congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu and everyone involved for bringing him home safely, and hope this prisoner exchange will bring peace a step closer.’