Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Weary Soldier in Historic Swap Deal; 1,000 Jailed Palestinians Are Released

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Weary Soldier in Historic Swap Deal; 1,000 Jailed Palestinians Are Released

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael Black

ONE thin and weary Israeli soldier went home after five years as a Hamas captive yesterday as hundreds of jailed Palestinians made the opposite journey, released as a swap for him.

Gilad Shalit was handed over to Egyptian mediators in an exchange for 1,027 Palestinians. More than 450 were transferred from Israeli prisons to the West Bank and Gaza, where massive celebratory rallies were held and crowds demanded more hostages like him be seized for future swaps.

The rest of the prisoners - about 550 more - are to be released in a second phase in two months.

Before he was flown to an Israel air base where he reunited with his parents, Shalit spoke to Egyptian TV in an interview Israeli officials later called "shocking".

The gaunt, sallow and uncomfortable looking Shalit appeared to struggle to speak at times, and his breathing was noticeably laboured as he awkwardly answered questions. He said he felt good and was "very excited" to be going free.

But the circumstances of his release, along with the awkward TV interview, raised questions about the conditions the 25-year-old had endured.

Shalit, who had not been seen in public since his capture, was whisked across Gaza's border into Egypt early in the morning by armed Hamas militants in an SUV, setting the swap into motion.

Wearing a black baseball hat and gray shirt, he was seen for the first time emerging from a pickup truck and turned over to Egyptian mediators by a gang of top Hamas militants.

Shalit, still escorted by Hamas gunmen, was then taken to a border crossing, where a TV crew waited to interview him before he was finally sent into Israel.

Stumbling over his words, he spoke in the interview of missing his family and friends, said he feared he would remain in captivity "many more years" and worried that the deal might fall through after learning about it last week. …

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