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On Tuesday October 18th Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been released after more than five years of captivity.
In return of his release Hamas demanded the liberation of 1,027 Palestinians prisoners held in Israeli jails, 477 were released simultaneously to Shalit, another 550 are planned to be set free in the next two months.
The 25-years-old soldier was abducted in June 2006 – when he was only 19 – by Hamas militants in Gaza. Israel had to admit there was no way to rescue him in a military operation, and it had to surrender and agree to the prisoner exchange put forward by Hamas.
Egypt worked as mediator for the exchange negotiation given that Israel and Hamas have no relations and do not talk directly to each other. Right after the very first group of Palestinian prisoners were released, Shalit was brought through Rafah border terminal into Egypt, where the Israeli medical personnel examinated him and checked his health conditions.
Later, he was brought to an Israeli military base along the Egypt border, boarded on a helicopter and flown to Israel while the rest of the Palestinian prisoners were being freed in Gaza and West Bank finalizing in this way the exchange.
Shalit appeared to be in good health, thin, pale and tired, just suffering from small shrapnel injuries that had been treated not properly.
Only few minutes after Hamas militants released him, he was interviewed by Egyptian TV journalist Shahira Amin and he told: “I missed my family. I missed going out and meeting people. I hope this deal will move the peace process forward.” This interview was strongly criticized by Israeli officials who say the questioning was inappropriate and insensitive.
Hundreds of chanting people on the streets greeted the young soldier, waving Israeli flags, laying out white roses, and hanging banners. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed Shalit and vowed: “We will continue to fight terror. Every terrorist who returns to terror will have a price on his head.” “Gilad has returned home and is back with his family, his people and his country”, he added.
After re-embracing his son after five years of absence, Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, told to Israeli television reporters: “It’s the happiest day of my life”.
“We can say that we have experienced the rebirth of a son”, he added. “Gilad has come home after an exhausting and long struggle. As I have said quite often, we were told that we were tilting at windmills. It was exhausting, but ultimately we managed to bring him home. As you have seen today he came home and walked up the steps that he left, and has come home, went through the door that he left so many days ago, 1,942 days ago.”
“He basically came out of a dark hole, in a dark basement, and came out of that to a great crowd. I’m sure that this was an amazing experience for him when he arrived here at our village to see all of this going on.”
While Israel is celebrating for Shalit, also in Gaza people are celebrating for Palestinian prisoner’s release. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya welcomed the freed detainees and Palestinian leaders have declared Wednesday a holiday for all government institutions, Hamas-run Al-Aqsa television reported.
It sounds weird and almost unreal that these two countries historically enemies could celebrate and rejoice simultaneously. Trying to understand why Israel accepted to release more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange of only one Israeli soldier, it will be interesting to see what will be the future of the relationships between the two countries.