Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit has been released from his Hamas captors after he was swapped for hundreds of jailed Palestinians.
More than 450 Palestinians were transferred from Israeli prisons to the West Bank and Gaza today, where massive celebratory rallies were held and crowds demanded more hostages like him be seized for future swaps. It came after Schalit, 25, was handed over to Egyptian mediators. A further
550 Palestinians are to be released in a second phase in two months.
At the West Bank yesterday, Hundreds of Palestinians gathered to celebrate the release of prisoners in the first stage of the Gilad Schalit deal.
Chants of “The people want a new Schalit,” could be heard as Hamas and Fatah supporters waved flags together as part of large scale celebrations.
Meanwhile, as Schalit was returning home, Israeli officials described his condition as “shocking” after seeing footage of him being interviewed on Egyptian TV before he was flown to an Israel air base, where he was reunited with his parents, and greeted by Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Schalit, who had not been seen since his capture five years ago, looked gaunt and uncomfortable, sometimes struggling to speak. Though his breathing was laboured, he said he was “very excited” to be free.
He added that he missed his family and worried that he would remain in captivity “many more years”.
Military officials said a physical exam had found him to be in “good” condition, though he showed signs of malnutrition and lack of exposure to the sun.
Schalit was taken in an SUV, accompanied by armed Hamas militants, across Gaza’s border into Egypt early in the morning.
After arriving in Israel, Schalit was flown home to the small town of Mitzpe Hila where thousands took to the streets to welcome him back.