Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit said Tuesday that he had been treated well by his Hamas captors during the five years he was held hostage, telling Egyptian television in the first interview following his release that he was relieved to finally be surrounded by people.

"I'm very emotional. I haven't seen people in a long time," said Shalit, adding that he was looking forward "to meeting people, to talking to people" and "not doing the same things all day long."

Shalit, 25, looked tired and dazed, hesitating as he replied to questions from an Egyptian TV reporter. Speaking through a translator, Shalit said he was in good health and that he hoped his release in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons would lead to peace between the two peoples.

"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."

Shalit also said he would be happy if remaining Palestinians held in Israeli prisons were freed to return to their own families, so long as they wouldn't "go back to fighting against Israel."

Asked when he was told he would be set free in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, he said: "I received the news about a week ago. I can't describe my feelings then, but I felt I had hard moments ahead of me." He said he had feared he would remain in captivity for "many more years" and remained afraid that "things may go wrong."

"It could have been possible to carry out this deal in a shorter time," he said.

"I think that the Egyptians succeeded, because they have good relations both with Hamas and with Israel," he replied, when the interviewer made a point of stressing that it had been the Egyptian National Security which mediated his release.

 

Israel and Hamas agreed through Egyptian mediation late last Monday on a deal that secured Shalit's release in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. Shalit officially passed into Israeli custody on Tuesday morning.

Shalit was abducted in June 2006 by militants who tunnelled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and surprised his tank crew, killing two of his comrades. He was whisked back into Gaza and held virtually incommunicado until his release.