IDF: Gilad Shalit Back Home in Israel After Five Years in Hamas Captivity

Soldier enters Israel via Kerem Shalom crossing on Gaza border as part of extensive prisoner swap; military medical staff say he is in good health.

Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, has officially passed into Israeli custody on Tuesday, after he had spent 1,940 days in Hamas captivity.

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Following his release, Shalit spoke to his family on the phone, for the first time since being taken captive by Hamas, over five years ago.

According to IDF Spokesman Yoav Mordechai, a physical examination of the IDF soldier has found that Shalit was in good health, and would leave soon to reunite with his family members.

A military helicopter carrying Shalit is due to arrive at IAF Tel Nof base, where he is to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reunite with his family.

Shalit's return to Israel came after the IDF has officially passed into Israeli custody less than an hour earlier, and after Egyptian TV released the first images of the Israeli soldier since his release.

In an interview to the Egyptian Nile TV station Shalit said he was informed of a deal to secure his release a week ago, adding that he missed his family and friends.

An Israel Defense Forces official confirmed that Shalit was identified at the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and was "alive and well."

Earlier Hamas said Israel completed the transfer of Palestinian prisoners due to be deported overseas and the Gaza Strip into Egypt, in a clear sign that a deal geared at securing Shalit's release was on track.

The Hamas report came following a brief stall in the prisoner exchange deal after IDF officials said two female Palestinian prisoners refused to be deported into the Gaza Strip.

One of the prisoners resisting deportation is reportedly Amna Muna, who was jailed for life in 2003 for luring 16-year-old Israeli Ofir Rahum from Ashkelon to Ramallah, where he was shot dead by Fatah terrorists.

According to the IDF official, Muna and a second prisoner were afraid of reprisal attacks by Gaza families, following Muna's apparent domination of prisoners in her Israeli jail.

Reports in Egyptian media claimed that Egypt agreed to receive Muna, thus averting her planned deportation to Gaza.

Earlier Tuesday, it was confirmed that Shalit was passed into Egyptian custody at around 8 A.M. Tuesday morning, bringing an end to his more than five years in Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip An Al-Arabiya report claimed Shalit had arrived at the Kerem Shalom by mid-morning.

Israel is freeing a total of 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners in return for the soldier.

Chief of Hamas operations in the West Bank Ahmed Yousef confirmed that Shalit had indeed been passed over to Egyptian hands. Arab media reports claimed Shalit was passed over to Egypt wearing an IDF uniform, and that he was handed over by the chief of Hamas' military wing Ahmed Jabari.

Meanwhile, buses carrying Palestinian prisoners began their journey across Israel's border with Egypt and into the West Bank on Tuesday morning, a de facto confirmation that the IDF soldier has passed out of Hamas control.

Gilad Shalit's family left their home at Mitzpe Hila in northern Israel on Tuesday morning, arriving at the Israel Air Force base at Tel Nof in the center of the country, where they will see him for the first time since his capture. IDF chief Benny Gantz also made his way to the IAF base.

IDF Spokesman's Office

The transfer of the soldier comes after the completion of the first stage of the prisoner exchange, as all 477 prisoners to go free in this round were transfered to locations on the Gaza border, in the West Bank and, in the case of the Israeli Arab prisoners included in the deal, East Jerusalem. Some of the Palestinian prisoners are to be sent to the Gaza Strip, some to the West Bank and some are to be deported.

 Israel Radio reported that Amna Muna, the female terrorist who was supposed to be deported as part of the Shalit deal, will instead be transferred to the Gaza Strip instead. Muna was jailed for life in 2003 for luring Israeli teen Ofir Rahum from Ashkelon to Ramallah, where he was shot dead by Fatah terrorists. An IDF official said the deal temporarily stalled in mid-morning after Muna and another female prisoner refused to be deported to Gaza.

As dawn broke, the first convoy of prisoners from Ketziot prison arrived at Ofer jail, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, and a short time later another convoy of prisoners, also from Ketziot, arrived at the Kerem Shalom crossing, where they were to be delivered to Gaza via Egypt. The prisoners were to be taken off the buses and identified; at Kerem Shalom they were transfered to Egyptian authorities to be taken to Gaza and at Ofer they were handed over to Red Cross officials.

Late Monday, the last legal obstacle to the release of Shalit was effectively removed after the High Court of Justice rejected petitions against the execution of the prisoner swap deal. The petitions were filed by families of terror victims who were killed in attacks planned, ordered and/or perpetrated by some of those freed in the deal.

Mitzpe Hila closes to visitors

Members of the Shalit family, parents Noam and Aviva, brother Yoel and sister Hadas, left this morning shortly after 6 A.M. for the Tel Nof Air Base. Gilad's grandfather, Tzvi, and grandmother, Yael (Noam's parents) were also to join them.

Noam arrived back to Mitzpe Hila Monday evening after a long day at the High Court. He chose not to talk to the media and rushed directly into his house.

The Yishuv attracted travelers and curious onlookers throughout the day, wanting to be photographed by the Shalit family home. On Monday evening, shortly after the news broadcasts ended, media personnel distanced themselves from the home, and the army police and Israel Police Force hermetically sealed the site.

There is currently no access to the path leading to the Shalit family's home. The entire Yishuv will be closed to visitors and the front gate has been closed since Tuesday morning. Only the media will be permitted access to a pre-prepared stage.

A special brochure will be handed out Tuesday morning to the large audience expected to visit Mitzpe Hila, which has turned into a pilgrimage site. Among other things written in the brochure, is "We now need to exhibit patience, and allow Gilad - after 1,941 days – to return to daily life at his own rate." Children of the yishuv went from house to house, handing out t-shirts with the words, "Gilad, we're waiting for you at home." Residents of the yishuv are preparing to wear the t-shirts and stand in a human chain upon his return.