Jerusalem, Oct. 18 - Kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit returned home on Tuesday, more than five years after he was kidnapped from sovereign Israeli territory by Iran-backed Hamas. Shalit was reunited with his family behind closed doors in southern Israel.
The exchange involves Israel releasing 1,027 Palestinian prisoners to Gaza, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and abroad in exchange for Shalit. More than 300 of them were serving life sentences, for involvement in the killing of Israeli civilians. A number of them did not want to sign a waiver saying they will renounce terror when they return home, Israel Radio reported.
Israel began transporting the Palestinian prisoners by busloads early this morning while Shalit was transferred by Hamas to Egypt, who transported him to Kerem Shalom, a border crossing that straddles Egypt, Israel and Gaza. His release was temporarily delayed by Palestinian female terrorist Amna Muna who initially refused to go to Gaza because she feared for her safety under Hamas. Muna, viewed as a symbol for terrorists, is from the Fatah political party in Ramallah in the West Bank.
Egypt was instrumental in brokering the deal.
Shalit was inspected briefly by a doctor and psychologist before flying to his home in Mitzpe Hila, a village in northern Israel near the Lebanese border. Since his abduction, Hamas has violated Shalit’s most basic human rights as a captive –contact with his family and visits from the International Red Cross. The only contact Shalit had with the outside would since his capture was three letters to his family, an audio tape and a video recording to the world – for which Israel released 20 Palestinian prisoners.
Regardless of the lively debate about the nature of the prisoner exchange, a majority of Israelis, about 80 percent, overwhelmingly support the high-cost of the lopsided deal.
Shalit was kidnapped by Iran-backed Hamas, who built a tunnel into Israel from Gaza, in 2006 while he was performing his mandatory national service in the army. He was 19 at the time.