Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit was greeted by an ecstatic welcome from hundreds of his friends, relatives and supporters as he arrived at his home in the northern town of Mitzpe Hila on Tuesday afternoon, hours after he was reunited with his parents and brother for the first time since he was abducted and taken to Gaza in June 2006.
Masses filled the streets in a carnival-like parade singing "Heveinu Shalom Aleichim" and marching with flags as the 25-year-old Shalit was driven up to his house for the first time in five years. Supporters who lined the street threw flowers at the IDF vehicle which transported the Shalit family to their home.
Mitzpe Hila homecoming 18.10.11
Shalit was released from Hamas captivity on Tuesday morning and taken to the Israel Air Force base in Tel Nof, central Israel shortly afterward. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak greeted Shalit as he arrived at the air base, accompanied by an IDF medical team.
"Hello, Gilad. Welcome back to Israel," said Netanyahu. "It's so good to have you home." Shalit, who changed into an IDF uniform before a helicopter ride from the Gaza border, saluted the prime minister and then embraced him. A short time later, he saw his family again.
In an interview to the Egyptian Nile TV station Shalit said he learned of the deal to secure his release a week ago, and said that he had missed his family and friends during his captivity.
Immediately after his release, Shalit had a private phone conversation with his family members for the first time since being taken captive by Hamas in June 2006.
IDF Spokesman Yoav Mordechai said an initial physical examination of the IDF soldier found Shalit to be in good health.
He said later, however, that Shalit had felt unwell during the flight to the IAF base, and underwent a more comprehensive check-up before the decision was made to send fly him home by helicopter under medical supervision.
Israel freed 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners to get Shalit back, including many who had been involved in terror attacks on Israeli civilians. The deal had been contested by Israelis who had lost family members in the attacks perpetrated by these convicted terrorists.
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