Gilad Shalit back home in Israel

Official confirmation of the IDF soldier’s homecoming come as Egypt TV releases first Shalit images since his release

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Gilad Shalit being released, Oct. 18, 2011.
Egypt TV Photo

By Anshel Pfeffer, Yaniv Kubovich
Haaretz

Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, who has spent more than five years in Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip, has officially passed into Israeli custody on Tuesday.

Shalit’s return to Israel came after the IDF has officially passed into Israeli custody less than an hour earlier, and after Egyptian TV released the first images of the Israeli soldier since his release.

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Video capture of Gilad Shalit on Oct. 18
BBC News Photo

An Israel Defense Forces official confirmed that Shalit was identified at the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and was “alive and well.”

Earlier Hamas said Israel completed the transfer of Palestinian prisoners due to be deported overseas and the Gaza Strip into Egypt, in a clear sign that a deal geared at securing Shalit’s release was on track.

Speaking through a translator, Shalit said he would be very happy if remaining Palestinians held in Israeli prisons were freed to return to their own families.

“Of course I miss my family very much. I also miss my friends,” he said. “I hope this deal will lead to peace between Palestinians and Israelis and that it will support cooperation between both sides.”

The Hamas report came following a brief stall in the prisoner exchange deal after IDF officials said two female Palestinian prisoners refused to be deported into the Gaza Strip.

One of the prisoners resisting deportation is reportedly Amna Muna, who was jailed for life in 2003 for luring 16-year-old Israeli Ofir Rahum from Ashkelon to Ramallah, where he was shot dead by Fatah terrorists.

According to the IDF official, Muna and a second prisoner were afraid of reprisal attacks by Gaza families, following Muna’s apparent domination of prisoners in her Israeli jail.

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Al Jazeera Photo

Reports in Egyptian media claimed that Egypt agreed to receive Muna, thus averting her planned deportation to Gaza.

Earlier Tuesday, it was confirmed that Shalit was passed into Egyptian custody at around 8 A.M. Tuesday morning, bringing an end to his more than five years in Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip An Al-Arabiya report claimed Shalit had arrived at the Kerem Shalom by mid-morning.

Israel is freeing a total of 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners in return for the soldier.

Chief of Hamas operations in the West Bank Ahmed Yousef confirmed that Shalit had indeed been passed over to Egyptian hands. Arab media reports claimed Shalit was passed over to Egypt wearing an IDF uniform, and that he was handed over by the chief of Hamas’ military wing Ahmed Jabari.

Meanwhile, buses carrying Palestinian prisoners began their journey across Israel’s border with Egypt and into the West Bank on Tuesday morning, a de facto confirmation that the IDF soldier in fact has passed out of Hamas control.

Gilad Shalit’s family left their home at Mitzpe Hila in northern Israel on Tuesday morning, arriving at the Israel Air Force base at Tel Nof in the center of the country, where they will see him for the first time since his capture. IDF chief Benny Gantz was also making his way to the IAF base.

The transfer of the soldier comes after the completion of the first stage of the prisoner exchange, as all 477 prisoners to go free in this round were transfered to locations on the Gaza border, in the West Bank and, in the case of the Israeli Arab prisoners included in the deal, East Jerusalem. Some of the Palestinian prisoners are to be sent to the Gaza Strip, some to the West Bank and some are to be deported.

Israel Radio reported that Amna Muna, the female terrorist who was supposed to be deported as part of the Shalit deal, will instead be transferred to the Gaza Strip instead. Muna was jailed for life in 2003 for luring Israeli teen Ofir Rahum from Ashkelon to Ramallah, where he was shot dead by Fatah terrorists. An IDF official said the deal temporarily stalled in mid-morning after Muna and another female prisoner refused to be deported to Gaza.

As dawn broke, the first convoy of prisoners from Ketziot prison arrived at Ofer jail, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, and a short time later another convoy of prisoners, also from Ketziot, arrived at the Kerem Shalom crossing, where they were to be delivered to Gaza via Egypt. The prisoners were to be taken off the buses and identified; at Kerem Shalom they were transfered to Egyptian authorities to be taken to Gaza and at Ofer they were handed over to Red Cross officials.

Late Monday, the last legal obstacle to the release of Shalit was effectively removed after the High Court of Justice rejected petitions against the execution of the prisoner swap deal. The petitions were filed by families of terror victims who were killed in attacks planned, ordered and/or perpetrated by some of those freed in the deal.

Mitzpe Hila closes to visitors

Members of the Shalit family, parents Noam and Aviva, brother Yoel and sister Hadas, left this morning shortly after 6 A.M. for the Tel Nof Air Base. Gilad’s grandfather, Tzvi, and grandmother, Yael (Noam’s parents) were also to join them.

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Noam arrived back to Mitzpe Hila Monday evening after a long day at the High Court. He chose not to talk to the media and rushed directly into his house.

The Yishuv attracted travelers and curios onlookers throughout the day, who chose to be photographed by the Shalit family home. On Monday evening, shortly after the news broadcasts ended, media personnel distanced themselves from the home, and the army police and Israel Police Force hermetically sealed the site.

There is currently no access to the path leading to the Shalit family’s home. The entire Yishuv will be closed to visitors and the front gate closed since Tuesday morning. Only the media will be permitted access to a pre-prepared stage.

A special brochure will be handed out Tuesday morning to the large audience expected to visit Mitzpe Hila, which has turned into a pilgrimage site. Among other things written in the brochure, is “We now need to be exhibit patience, allow Gilad – after 1,941 days – to return to daily life at his own rate.” Children of the yishuv went from house to house, handing out t-shirts with the words, “Gilad, we’re waiting for you at home.” Residents of the yishuv are preparing to wear the t-shirts and stand in a human chain upon his return.

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See Related: Gilad Shalit Agreement Archive