Friday 23 March 2018

Freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit says: "I’ll be happy if all Palestinian prisoners are free"

Freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (C) is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) at Tel Nof Airbase. Photo: Getty Images
Freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (C) is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) at Tel Nof Airbase. Photo: Getty Images
Gilad Shalit speaks at a news conference shortly after his release
Gilad Shalit, centre, the Israeli soldier held captive for five years by Hamas, has been freed in Gaza in return for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners
Gilad Shalit pictured before he was taken captive in 2006
Aviva (C) and Noam (2nd R) Shalit, parents of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and their son Yoel (3rd L), walk towards a helicopter near their home earlier. Photo: Getty Images
A convoy of Israeli Prison Service buses carrying Palestinians prisoners who are to be exchanged for captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, arrive at Israel's Ofer prison, on October 18. Photo: Getty Images
Palestinian Hamas militants stand guard on the main road in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 17. Photo: Getty Images

IN his first interview since being released this morning, freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit spoke of his desire to see peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

He said he would be happy to see the release of more Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

Speaking in Hebrew on Egyptian television after his release, the 24-year-old soldier who was taken in 2006 when on national service said:

“It is possible to learn an important lesson from this - that it is possible to conclude deals to free prisoners.

When asked whether he would campaign for the release of 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli jail he said:” I will be happy if all these prisoners are free, so that they can go back to their loved ones, their territory and their families. I will be very happy if this happens.”

Wearing a blue checked shirt and looking very pale and thin, the soldier who was held in a secret location by Hamas for five years said:

“Obviously I missed my family a lot and also all my friends. I missed meeting normal people and there is now so much to do now that I am out.”

His family are waiting at Tel Nof air base. They have not seen him since he was captured at age 19 in 2006.

Meanwhile, buses carrying 477 Palestinian prisoners earlier headed to Gaza and the West Bank in the first stage of a swap deal to free the captured Israeli soldier.

Among those being set free in the operation, which began before dawn, are many serving life sentences for deadly attacks.

They are the first tranche of a total of 1,027 prisoners being let out in exchange for the release of Sgl Shalit, who has been held by Gaza militants for more than five years.

The deal, signed last week between Israel and its bitter enemy Hamas, is the highest price ever paid by the Jewish state for one person. It is expected to be the first time in 26 years that a captured Israeli soldier has been returned alive.

Late on Monday, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected an 11th hour appeal against the swap by families who had lost people in Palestinian attacks.

An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed that the "prisoners have started moving".

Some 297 prisoners were being driven to the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing where they will be greeted by top Hamas figures before entering Gaza.

"We are on the way to Rafah with Mussa Abu Marzuk and Sheikh Salah al-Aruri to welcome the liberated prisoners," spokesman Izzat al-Rishq told Hamas's Al Aqsa television in Gaza.

"The operation to return Shalit to the Israeli side will take place at the moment we are assured that all the prisoners have arrived at the Egyptian border."

Another 40 prisoners who are to be deported overseas will remain in Egypt before being sent to host countries, which include Turkey, Syria and Qatar.

Emotions were running high across Israel, where Shalit, has enormous symbolic importance, while Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza were also preparing to give a heroes' welcome to the returning prisoners.

Shalit was a 19-year-old corporal on duty along the Gaza border when he was captured on June 25 2006 by militants from three Gaza-based groups, including Hamas.

Three days after he was snatched, Israel launched a massive military operation against Gaza in a bid to secure his release, which lasted five months and left more than 400 Palestinians dead.

Shalit to be transferred to the Egyptian Sinai peninsula before travelling on to Israel. He will be met at the Tel Nof airbase in southern Israel by Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before being reunited with his family.

His family have been readjusting and preparing for the long-awaited return of their son to their home in northern Israel, after finally moving out of the Jerusalem protest tent they called home for nearly 16 months.

Throughout the Palestinian territories, celebration preparations were under way, with Hamas expected to hold a massive welcome rally in Gaza City and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas slated to greet the released prisoners in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

In all, Israel will free 1,027 Palestinians, with a second tranche of 550 to be released within two months.

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News