After five and a half years in Hamas captivity, IDF First Sergeant Gilad Shalit has returned to Israel, after being exchanged for 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners. Shortly after Israel released the first prisoners at 7:30 am, Hamas handed Shalit over to Egyptian authorities. At 9:00 am Shalit met Israeli special envoy David Meidan for the negotiations with Hamas. While in Egypt, Shalit gave an interview to Egyptian TV. He said that he had been treated well by Hamas and feared he would remain in captivity for many more years.
According to Channel 2 News, Shalit walked under his own power into Egypt at the Rafiah border crossing, and he appeared in good physical shape. His grandfather, Zvi Shalit, told Channel 2, "It will be all right. I don’t know what I'll tell him when I see him. It's very emotional." Gilad's father, Noam, told Channel 2, "This is the happiest day of my life."
Israel is releasing 477 Palestinian prisoners in the first stage of the deal, and 550 more in two months. 40 prisoners are being deported from Israel and the West Bank: 15 to Syria, 15 to Qatar, and 10 to Turkey.
Israeli Arabs in Umm el-Fahm celebrated the prisoners' releases, and hundreds of Palestinians in Beituniyeh in the West Bank waved Hamas flags and chanted, "We want a new Gilad Shalit."
The Egyptians transferred Shalit to the IDF at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, where he underwent a medical check-up, was given a uniform, and phoned his parents, who were waiting at the Tel Nof Air Force Base. Shalit was then flown to the base, to meet them.
After Shalit met his parents, a modest ceremony was held at noon at Tel Nof in the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, and IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Ganz. The media was not invited.
The Air Force then took Shalit and his family by Blackhawk helicopter to their home in Mitzpeh Hila in the Galilee. He was greeted by local residents, while the Police were deployed to keep out curious onlookers.
The convoys carrying the released Palestinian prisoners were escorted by helicopters.
The final legal hurdle to the prisoner exchange was removed last night, when the High Court of Justice rejected four petitions by bereaved families against the release of the Palestinian prisoners. The decision by the three-judge panel, headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, was unanimous.
In the decision, Beinisch wrote, "Resolution of the issues raised in the case before us, one which involves security considerations, as well as moral and ethical matters, is in the hands of the elected government."
Beinisch wrote that the decision was "one of the most loaded and unnerving debates to come before this court." She added, "Undoubtedly, the government's decision will send many terrorists who will be set free without serving their full sentence," and that most of those to be released were "vile murderers, whose hands are stained with blood of hundreds of victims, innocent civilians, women and children, old and young, that stumbled upon bombing scenes during the years in which Israel struggled against ferocious terror."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 18, 2011
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