>Released soldier gives first ever TV interview after release
>Ghalit says he missed family, hopes deal will boost peace
>Hamas supporters demand more kidnappings
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent with BosNewsLife Middle East Service
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (BosNewsLife)– Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was released Tuesday, October 18, after being held captive for over five years by militant group Hamas, saying they were “lonely” days. Over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were to be released in exchange, 477 of them on the same day.
In his first ever television interview, a thin looking 24-year-old Shalit said he would be happy if more Palestinians “will be returned to their homes” and added he hopes the deal “will lead to peace” between the Israeli and Palestinian people. It was however broadcast from Egyptian territory by Egyptian television and it remained unclear whether he was feeling comfortable to speak his mind.
The footage was aired while he was in the hands of Israeli authorities and to be reunited shortly with family and undergo medical checks at Israel’s Tel Nof military base.
“This were long years, however I always believed that the day would come that I would be outside prison,” he said in televised remarks. “I heard the news about my upcoming release a week ago and at the time that was the missing part. I was very happy with this news. I can not describe my feelings. I had difficult times,” Ghalit added.
He said that the broadcasting by Hamas of a video message of him two years ago, “meant nothing for me, but it meant a lot for other” people, including security services. “Obviously I missed my family a lot and also I missed my friends. And I missed meeting normal people to talk to them and to tell them about my experiences while in captivity. I have a lot to do,” Ghalit explained. “This was an important lesson in life “, the soldier stressed. “I hope this deal [leading to my release] will help to establish peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”
He said Egyptian security services relations with Hamas were speeding up his release after previous failed, sometimes internationally mediated, negotiations. About the 4,000 Palestinians still remaining in Israeli prisons, Ghalit said: “I would be very happy if all these prisoners are free so that they can go back to their families and loved ones and their territories. This would give me great happiness if that happens.”
Ghalit earlier entered neighboring Egypt in a move set to prompt the release of prisoners in what Israeli officials described as a carefully arranged plan, before moving into Israel.
In the early morning hours, several armored Israeli vehicles were seen carrying detainees from prisons.
The sergeant had been captured by the militant Hamas group 5 years ago. Israel’s government had pledged to bring him home.
There remained concerned Tuesday, October 18. about the soldier’s health who had no access to the International Red Cross, something Israel’s government said violated international agreements. However a thin looking Shalit managed to walk into Israeli territory, the military said.
Jerusalem Post columnist Gil Hoffman said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been politically strengthened by the prisoner exchange deal.
However there have also been protests against the deal, including from survivors of terrorist attacks carried out by at least some of released prisoners.
Israel’s Supreme Court upheld the prisoner exchange deal Monday, October 17, rejecting four petitions submitted by relatives of Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks.
Shalit was captured by Palestinian militants in a 2006 cross-border raid from Gaza into southern Israel.
Some of the prisoners to be released were involved in planning and carrying out terrorist attacks against Israelis, including more than 280 Palestinians serving life sentences. More than 100 are considered hardcore militants.
ONE THOUSAND RELEASED
In total, over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners are to be released in exchange for the soldier’s release, nearly half of them on Tuesday, October 18. However 40 detainees considered a security risk by Israel were being deported to Qatar, Syria and Turkey.
There was a snag early Tuesday, October 18, amid reports that one of 27 female prisoners was not prepared to be deported but the Israeli military and Hamas said later those problems had been overcome.
“The female prisoner said she had health problems and that she was concerned about no medical checkups because of the [Israeli] siege,” said Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan speaking from Beirut. “She was promised that would happen,” he added.
The Israel’s government made clear it was not celebrating the most lopsided prisoner swap in Israeli history, which caps a five-and-a-half-year saga that has seen multiple Israeli military offensives in Gaza, an Israeli blockade on the territory and numerous rounds of failed negotiations.
Hamas spokesman Hamdan, whose group has been linked to several suicide attacks against the Jewist state, also said that it is to “early to talk about relations between Hamas and Israel.”
He said his group wanted to be treated more favorably by the “international community and the Israeli” side. “We are still in the same square,” he stressed. Hamas has so far refused to recognize Israel and pledged its destruction.
There were some signs Tuesday, October 18, that at least several Hamas supporters would like to see more kidnappings with shouts of “We want a new Shalit” heard in Gaza, reporters on the scene said. Several returned prisoners speaking briefly speaking to reporters defended their actions including attacks against Israel and called Shalit “a criminal shooting at Palestinians.”
The swap got under way early Tuesday, October 18, as Hamas whisked Shalit across Gaza’s border with Egypt, while Israel simultaneously began freeing the Palestinian prisoners. At midmorning, Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader in Gaza, reportedly said his group was no longer holding the soldier.
(This is a breaking developing news story. Check often for more updates)