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As it happened: Gilad Schalit comes home in prisoner swap

The first phase of the historic prisoner exchange is complete,  as 477 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli jails and Gilad Schalit returned to Israel, after more than five years in Hamas captivity. Follow as Noa Yachot, Dimi Reider and Ami Kaufman report the developments as they happen.

18:48 French Ambassador comes to Schalit house (Gilad is a French citizen) with a letter from President Nicolas Sarkozy.

18: 25 Noam Schalit has started his press conference: “As you saw, we are ending a long and tiring journey that began in June 2006 and ended after 5 years and 4 months on OCtober 2011. Gilad is home, after a long and tiring battle, a battle against windmills, but ultimately we succeeded to bring him home. As you saw, he just entered the house that he left 1,942 days ago.

“Gilad feels well, he is suffering from a few injuries that he suffered during his capture that weren’t treated, and also complications due to lack of sunlight. He is happy to be home. Naturally it’s difficult for him to show himself to many people, due to the fact that he was in isolation for so many years and couldn’t communicate with people in Hebrew. He only communicated with his captors. He will undergo rehabilitation, which we hope will be speedy so he can return to a normal life. We can say today that we went through a rebirth of our son.

“I’d like to thank the large crowd that came here to greet Gilad so warmly. Gilad unfortunately cannot come out to greet you, but thanks to the pilot of the chopper, Gilad looked at all of you from the skies and saw all the support from the people on the ground.

“We thank all the public who supported us all along the way and all the dedicated activists who are here this evening and stayed with us all the way to the last stop, here in Mitzpe Hila. We also want to thank the army and police who coordinated this operation so well.

“We also thank the Israeli government who took this decision, a difficult one. This deal is not easy for us, as well. We stood across bereaving families yesterday at the High Court, and we understand the price they are paying for Gilad’s release.

“We hope you and the media understand us and allow us to return to a normal life quickly.

“When I met Gilad I just hugged him and told him ‘Welcome back.’ I have to admit that I think he was surprised by all the people here today. I’m sure he appreciates all of this.

“We know that Gilad had a radio, and sometimes TV, Arab stations.

“The first thing we did was eat dinner, after Gilad’s long day.

“He hasn’t told us much. He said that in the first few years he was not treated well, but later on the conditions improved.

“The meeting with his mother included a hug and tears.”

17:57 Former Chief IDF Rabbi Avichai Rontski says on Channel 2 it’s just a matter of time that the released prisoners kill a Jew. Rontski recently commented on the Schalit swap, saying “terrorists must be killed in their beds, without waiting for the courts.” He also said it would have been better if Schalit would have been pronounced dead by the IDF.

17:23 Channel 2 reports that Noam Schalit, Gilad’s father, will hold a short press conference at 18:00 outside the house. Diplomatic correspondent Udi Segal continues to compare between the scenes at Mitzpe Hila to those in the West Bank, “where they celebrate the return of murderers.”

17:08 That’s it. Gilad enters his house. His mother walked slowly behind him, patted his back as he crossed the doorstep, and they both entered the house. It’s the end of one journey.

17:01 Convoy with reunited Schalit family enters Mitzpe Hila.

16:54 Chopper with Gilad Schalit and his family lands at Mitzpe Hila.

16:20 Hundreds of friends and neighbours in Mitzpe Hila, where the Schalit family lives, are awaiting the arrival of the family. The army chopper will land at an airfield in nearby Kfar Vradim, and the family will then proceed by car to their home.

14:06 Meanwhile, it seems some families have decided to take matters into their own hands. The family of Shlomo Libman, killed near the settlement of Yitzhar  in 1998, say they will pay $100,000 to anyone willing to assassinate Libman’s killers, released today as part of the prisoner swap. One of the killers has been deported to Gaza, the other will be deported to Turkey; the announcements were released in English, Hebrew, Arabic and Turkish.

13:43 Schalit is spending time with his family at the Tel Nof military base. They are soon to board a helicopter that will take them home. It’s unclear whether Schalit or his father Noam will speak to the press; we also know that the two main television channels, Channel Two and Channel Ten have signed an agreement promising to respect the family’s privacy and not try and scoop each other out for interviews once Schalit has reached home.

Earlier, Schalit was met by the IDF Chief of Staff, who saluted him, and by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly led him to his parents and said “I brought your boy back.” Netanyahu then addressed the media, stressing his empathy with the families of the victims of Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for Shalit. He also attempted to resurrect trust between citizens and state, saying that when he served as a soldier himself, he always knew the state would bring him back if he was to be captured.

13:00 Channel 2: Schalit reaches Tel Nof base, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told him, “Bless your return to Israel,  it’s so good to have you home,” before he reunited with his parents. Crowds of press and army folks are waiting outside the base. A stage is set up for a small press conference, with about three seats, a podium and a fighter plane (?) on the lawn behind it

12:48 IDF releases video of Schalit’s first encounter with IDF (Hebrew text at start of clip reads: “Tuesday, 18.10.11: Sergeant Major Gilad Shalit in first meeting with IDF officials”)

12:31 IDF has Schalit change into IDF uniform before flying to meet his parents, thereby militarizing what until now photographed as a legitimately emotional story. To quote Dahlia Scheindlin, “What a totally justified reason for delaying his reunion with his parents – so he can change into the uniform that symbolized the reason why he was kidnapped in the first place.”

12:20 IDF helicopter takes off, carrying Gilad Schalit to Tel Nof air force base, where he will be reunited with his family

12:20 First phase of prisoner exchange completed as 477 Palestinian prisoners released

12:10 Abbas speaking in Ramallah to freed prisoners, expresses hope that the rest of the Palestinian prisoners held in Israel will be released soon

12:05 Clashes at Beitunia intensify; IDF using stink bombs and acoustic crowd control weapon on crowd

11:56 IDF releases image of Schalit speaking to his parents on phone, smiling

11:51 IDF spokesperson reports that Schalit suffering from poor nutrition and lack of sunlight, but is in basically in good health

11:48 PA President Mahmoud Abbas receives freed Palestinian prisoners in Ramallah

Palestinians celebrating the prisoner release (photo: Oren Ziv / activestills.org)

11:40 First busload of released Palestinian prisoners enters Gaza Strip

11:30 Planned celebration at Beitunia checkpoint turns into clashes as IDF decides to transfer prisoners via another route

11:20 Schalit tells interviewer that he hopes the prisoner exchange deal will help advance Israeli-Palestinian peace

11:15 Eyptian TV interview with Schalit: He is taking deep breaths and looking around the room, quite pale and stressed. “Of course I missed home, missed talking to people.”

11:05 IDF spokesman confirms Gilad Schalit in on Israeli territory for first time in five years and four months

11:02 First batch of Palestinian prisoners have crossed into Egypt en route to Gaza

10:57 Various sources report Schalit is on Israeli territory. Awaiting confirmation

10:41 Haaretz reports that Gilad Schalit is in Israeli hands

10:24 Egyptian TV airs footage from today, of Schalit led by Hamas officials, looking thin but healthy and on his feet, not in uniform as reported earlier

Egypt TV footage of Shalit led by Hamas officials through Gaza-Egypt border

10:22 IDF confirms it has identified Schalit, who is in “good health”

10:14 BBC tweets that its earlier report of Schalit phone call to his parents is unconfirmed. Indeed, this hasn’t been reported by any other source

10:08 Ynet and Haaretz report that Egypt has agreed to take in Amna Muna, Palestinian prisoner who resisted deportation to Gaza; Muna was imprisoned in 2001 for seducing an Israeli teen through chat into an ambush in which he was killed

9:56 Two Palestinian women prisoners agree to enter Gaza after initially resisting

9:47 Al Jazeera: Of 297 Palestinian prisoners being sent to Gaza, only 133 are actually from the coastal territory; Hamas vows to provide all prisoners a job, salary for life, apartment and car

9:39 BBC reports on Twitter that Gilad Schalit has spoken with his parents and IDF confirms he is in good health

9:32 Israel Radio cites unconfirmed Egyptian TV report that Schalit met with Egyptian officials and was able to communicate in Arabic, though translator was present

9:29 Ynet reports that two women prisoners, including Amna Muna, are refusing to enter Gaza

9:17 In sign of Fatah attempt to join the party, PA President Abbas will greet released prisoners along with Hamas officials in Muqata

9:13 Al Arabiya: Schalit undergoing preliminary medical examination on Egyptian side of Kerem Shalom crossing

8:50 Mahmoud A-Zahar reported Schalit has been handed over to the Israeli delegation in Egypt. Channel 2 showing Palestinians in the West Bank waving Hamas flags.

8:34 Channel 2: 15 of the release Palestinian prisoners will be deported to Syria, 15 to Qatar, 10 to Turkey; Israel Radio reports Schalit meeting with Israeli IDF officer

8:33 Al Arabiya: Schalit reaches Kerem Shalom border crossing, from which he will enter Israel

8:26 Various Israeli news sites report that Schalit is set to cross into Israel; Al Arabiya and Channel 2: Schalit to be given over to IDF shortly

8:15 Ynet: Egyptians announce Schalit transferred from Gaza to Egypt; Channel 2 says Israeli security  says he is still in Hamas hands

8:09 Ynet: Israeli buses holding Palestinian prisoners crossing to Egyptian side of Rafah crossing

8:05 Celebrations underway at Beitunia crossing near Ramallah in anticipation of prisoners’ arrival

7:40 16 prisoners – 14 men and 2 women – set out in convoy from Ofer Prison to East Jerusalem; Ynet reports Hamas confirms that Schalit transferred to Egypt

7:25 Al Jazeera reporting that Schalit has been brought to Rafah border crossing on Gaza border

7:13 Channel 2 talking heads debating the merits of dressing Schalit in IDF uniform upon his entry into Israel

7:11 Red Cross completes cross-checking prisoners with list, announces that names match

6:57 Schalit family leaves home in Mitzpe Hila in northern Israel for Tel Nof air force base, seen off by throngs of Israelis

6:38 Channel 2 interviews Abu Mujahid, spokesperson for Schalit captors, who explains that when the prisoners reach release points and are cross-checked with approved list, Schalit will be taken across Gaza border to Egypt. Estimates: 9 A.M.

6:25 Egyptian officers reach Gaza border, where they will receive Schalit

6:21 Channel 2 reports that Gilad Schalit expected to be transferred to Israel at roughly 9 A.M.

5:50 Ynet and Channel 2 report that the prisoner swap is underway: Order given at 2:30 A.M. to begin release of Palestinian prisoners; 172 prisoners brought to Kerem Shalom Gaza crossing; 133 prisoners waiting at Ofer Prison awaiting release to West Bank, East Jerusalem

Dahlia Scheindlin contributed to this report

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    1. Deïr Yassin

      Honestly, I’m happy that Gilad Shalit is free. I hope he has been treated well, I’m sure he has. And I hope they gave him some good stuff to read. You know, like Ilan Pappe, Tom Segev, Avi Shlaim, and hopefully he learnt some French …. A little Stockholm syndrome would be nice.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Wisdo

      Once again the supposed “Extremists”, Hamas get results while the moderate Fatah flails around with no support from Israel.

      Back at the start of the second Intifada, Israel stated it had “no partner for peace”. It consistently undermined Abbas, in an effort to bolster Hamas and divide and conquer.

      This stratagem is still being played out. Hamas is the darling of the IDF. A convenient excuse to impose the harshest conditions on the Gazan population, expand the ISraeli security state, silence dissent in Israel and keep the “peace process” on track i.e. stalled

      Watch: The annexation plan continues apace, the freeing of Shalit comes just after the announcement of the completed encirclement of East Jerusalem. Mass expulsions to follow, in time.

      Reply to Comment
    3. M Hatherstone

      Surely, it’s illegal, even in Israel, to openly solicit murder?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Nikos Retsos

      Outside the emotions of the moment, Gilad Shalit’s release must be viewed within these core facts:

      The Gilad Shalit’s release swap was noted for its lopsidedness: Shalit, an Israeli soldier, for 1027 Palestinians! And that makes Shalit the “golden boy” of Israel. He has already been promoted to a Sargent of the Israeli army, and if he stays in the army he would certainly enjoy a quick and meteoric career to a 4 star General. He then can retire and use his fame to become Israel’s prime minister – like the late Yitzhak Rabin! Benjamin Netanyahu also rose to the prime minister position on his brother’s (Lieutenant Yonatan Netanyahu) fame who was killed during the Israeli raid on Entebbe in 1976.

      Fame no doubts brings fortunes, and lopsided fame has an imperial and permeative nature that borders on veneration and worship. Shalit has just arrived on that stage,
      and Hollywood would certainly be knocking on his door soon for a “Shalit” movie that would probably make him a mufti-millionaire! On top of that will the icing of the cake: billionaire Jewish girls vying for the Israel’s most eligible bachelor, while other nondescript bachelors will be collecting dust and eating their hearts out! Poor Shalit! He suddenly finds himself in the pantheon of fame that is equal to, or surpasses that of David Ben-Gurion. And his future ahead is probably a Midas built road that he has never dreamed of!

      What the “lopsidedness” of his deal would bring to the other side: the released Palestinian prisoners? Nothing! They would just be discarded like a truckload of trash! Nikos Retsos, retired professor

      Reply to Comment
    5. sh

      Thanks very much to Noa and Dimi for the live blog. It spared me and those like me all the maudlin verbiage and gave the essential, which is his homecoming and events surrounding it. Fantastic determination and stubbornness by his family and their supporters were a lesson to all of us not to lie down and take what governments dish out. That murderers were freed is hard for the tragically bereaved families, but sacrificing Gilad would not have brought their loved ones back, nor would it have solved the problems that caused him to be seized in the first place. Now it’s time for peacemaking. Wonder if the government will twig.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Palestinian

      @ Wisdo , Israel since its creation made it clear that the only language that it understands is resistance and violence , thats what indigenous populations do under occupation.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ben Israel

      You are absolutely right, people should not sit passively and take the garbage the government dishes out. Those of us who opposed this suicidal release of terrorists, and particularly the relatives of the victims should have done everything possible to prevent this horrible deal from being carried out.

      Reply to Comment