Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit flew back to his home in the northern town of Mitzpe Hila on Tuesday afternoon, hours after he was reunited with his family for the first time since he was abducted and taken to Gaza in June 2006.

Shalit was released from Hamas captivity on Tuesday morning. He arrived at the Israel Air Force base in Tel Nof, central Israel shortly afterward, where he saw his family for the first time in more than five years.

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.

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 him home to Mitzpe Hila, where hundreds of friends, relatives and supporters were waiting to give him a tumultuous and emotional welcome.

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.