Peres: Israel Stands With Gilad Shalit Full of Excitement

Peres says nation stands behind Shalit; Kadima MK Nachman Shai says Netanyahu's cabinet must reevaluate Gaza blockade, ban on talks with Hamas.

President Shimon Peres commended the

release of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit

Shimon Peres
Kobi Gideon

on Tuesday, saying that Israel stands with him full of excitement, with tears and a proud heart.

“The children of Israel and the soldiers of the IDF are now tasting freedom along with you,” the Israeli president said in an open letter to Shalit.

Earlier Tuesday, Shalit arrived in Israel and was reunited with his family following five years in Hamas captivity, as part of a prisoner exchange deal with the Gaza-ruling militant group.

Peres told Shalit that the entire nation stood behind him and had prayed for his return. He acknowledged the difficulty of the government’s decision to release over 1,000 prisoners to secure his release.

The Israeli president addressed the citizens of Israel, saying “the joy of terrorists will not determine our fate, but rather the justice of our values and the courage of our soldiers.”

Kadima MK Nachman Shai said on Tuesday that Israel must re-evaluate its relations with Hamas following Shalit’s release, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet to take advantage of what he called a "small window of opportunity."

Commenting on the successful execution of the Shalit swap deal, the Kadima MK urged Israeli leaders to take advantage of the recent agreement, and rethink its stance on Hamas as well as on the Gaza blockade.

"With Gilad Shalit's return home, Israel needs to weigh the possibility that relations with Hamas may be open to change," MK Shai said, adding that "the blockade on Gaza was, in a significant way, dictated by Gilad's abduction and captivity."

With Shalit's return, the Kadima MK indicated, Israel had to "reevaluate its stance toward Hamas as part of a renewed attempt to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority."

"This is a small window of opportunity that forces the government to present diplomatic initiative, and not to continue fortifying itself behind old stances," Shai said.

Speaking at a press conference following Shalit's release, Netanyahu said that the decision to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners as part of the deal that secured Shalit's release was "very very hard," adding, however, that he concentrated his efforts on "returning home he who was sent into battle by the State of Israel."

"I thought of Gilad, of the five years in which he rotted in Hamas captivity. I did not want his fate to be that of [missing IAF navigator] Ron Arad, who was taken captive 25 years ago, and has not returned home since," Netanyahu said.