Shalit freed; calls family

Oct. 18, 2011 at 7:19 AM
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RAFAH, Gaza, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was on Israeli soil Tuesday for the first time since he was captured by Hamas five years ago.

Shalit was released to Israeli officials in Egypt. His first act of freedom was to telephone his family, Haaretz reported.

An Israeli military official said a physical exam found Shalit in good health.

Shalit returned to Israel about an hour after being handed over to Israeli authorities. Egyptian TV released the first images of the Israeli soldier since his release, and an Israeli military official confirmed Shalit was identified at the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

In an interview with Egyptian Nile television, Shalit said he was told of the prisoner exchange swap to secure his release and that he missed his family and friends.

Hamas said Israel transferred Palestinian prisoners due to be deported overseas and to Gaza. Haaretz said the exchange was stalled by two female Palestinian prisoners who refused to be sent to Gaza.

Israel is releasing 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners in phases in return for Shalit.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he knows Israelis, especially those who lost loved ones in terrorist attacks, are unhappy about the prisoner release.

"I know that the price is very heavy for you," he wrote in letters to bereaved relatives.

"I understand the difficulty to countenance that the evil people who perpetrated the appalling crimes against your loved ones will not pay the full price that they deserve," Netanyahu wrote shortly before the relatives petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to block the prisoner exchange. "During these moments I hope that you will find solace that I and the entire nation of Israel embrace you and share your pain."

The Supreme Court refused to block or alter the exchange, which some critics say is not only a concession to terrorists but an incentive for terrorists to abduct more Israeli soldiers.

Shalit, 25, was captured June 25, 2006, by Hamas militants and two other Gaza militant factions in a cross-border raid near where the Israeli, Gaza and Egyptian borders meet. He had not been seen in public since.

Shalit and his family will meet at an airbase before returning to their home in northern Israel.

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