President Shimon Peres met last night with Gilad Shalit and his family at their home in Mitzpeh Hila, praising the former captive for his fortitude under difficult conditions.

"I, and with me the entire nation, admire your courage and the way you coped with extreme difficulty, which included sitting in Hamas captivity for five years," Peres said during the first visit to the Shalit home by a senior official since Gilad returned last week.

"I'm slowly getting stronger and I'm happy to be home," the freed soldier told Peres.

After the visit, which lasted less than an hour, Gilad's father, Noam, said that "Peres expressed his admiration for us, the parents and the family, as well.

"We expressed our thanks to the Israeli government, to the prime minister who brought the deal that returned Gilad home to fruition, and to the Jewish people, who supported the deal despite the heavy price," Noam Shalit said, adding that Gilad had also thanked the president.

"You know he doesn't talk much, but he definitely felt the appreciation of the president, who chose to come all the way to Mitzpeh Hila to express it," the elder Shalit said. "Gilad is aware, and was aware before, of the public support he had during the years of struggle, when he was jailed.

"Gilad thanks everyone for their support, and he wants to get back to a normal routine, to play basketball and ping pong, to watch television and fill in the gaps."

During the next few days, Shalit will continue to undergo medical tests and is expected to go through his first military debriefing about the period he spent in captivity.

On Sunday night, the police removed the barriers from the road leading to the Shalits' home. As a result, the town council, in cooperation with the Maaleh Yosef Regional Council, has hired a private security firm that put up its own barriers near the home to keep out curious onlookers.