shalit peres - Ziv Binyonski - October 24 2011
President Shimon Peres and Gilad Shalit at the Shalit family home in Mitzpe Hila, October 24, 2011. Photo by Ziv Binyonski
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President Shimon Peres visited Gilad Shalit and his family at their home in Mitzpe Hila on Monday, less than a week after the Israel Defense Forces soldier was released from the Hamas captors who abducted him and held him for more than five years. Peres was the first Israeli official to visit Shalit at his home.

"I am slowly regaining my strength and am happy to be home," Shalit told Peres during the visit. He thanked the president for his support and for the help he had shown his parents during their campaign for his release.

The president lauded Shalit for the bravery he demonstrated during so many years of captivity. "I came on behalf of the whole nation to tell you how happy we are to have you home," Peres told Shalit.

Not many people could have withstood such suffering and emerged standing so tall, Peres reportedly said, telling Shalit he saw within him "enormous strength and endurance".

Peres lent his support to the family from the time Shalit was abducted in 2006. The president also hosted the captive soldier's parents, Noam and Aviva, at the President's Residence shortly after the prisoner exchange that paved the way for their son's release was announced.

On Sunday the family was paid a visit by Sheikh Salah Shibli, of the Arab Israeli village of Shibli.

Meanwhile, activists from the Campaign to Free Gilad Shalit on Monday began dismantling the protest tent that was erected in front of the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem more than a year ago.

The police have decided that the barrier on the path leading to Shalit's home could be removed, in an effort to return things to normal in the community, but several curiosity-seekers used the opportunity to walk right up to the Shalits' front door.

Local authorities have decided to hire a private security service, which will guard the Shalit home as of this morning. The chairman of the Mitzpe Hila local committee, Mor Tarzi, said authorities were also considering installing an electric gate at the entrance to the community.

Visitors continued to make their way to Mitzpe Hila on Sunday, drawn by Gilad Shalit's return home last Tuesday. Hundreds of letters and packages for Shalit from around the world have also arrived since his release.