TEL NOF AIR BASE, Israel – Thousands of Israeli’s gathered near the home of Israeli SGT. Gilad Shalit in Mitzpe Hhila to welcome him home on Tuesday after being held captive for five-years in the Gaza Strip.
Tens of thousands of flag-waving Palestinians were happy to welcome home the prisoners from Israeli prisons who were swapped for Shalit’s release.
It has been nearly three decades since political leaders have agreed to prisoners being released which has made this event an important day in history in the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
It was in 2006 when Shalit was abducted by Hamas militants after suffering from shrapnel wounds. The last few years of his captivity he said was spent in “isolation.”
According to a BBC translation, a recent video message showed Shalit in September 2009 saying he had been “waiting and yearning” a long time for his release saying, he feared he would remain in captivity “many more years.”
“Of course I missed my family. I missed friends, meeting people to talk to people, and not to sit all day, to do the same things,” Shalit said.
Celebrating the return of her brother who was a Palestinian prisoner just released, Azhar Abu Jawad said she is happy because her brother was sentenced to life in prison for killing an Israeli in 1992. She said the last time she saw her brother was eight years ago just before Israel banned visits by Gazans.
“My happiness is indescribable,” she said. “We’ll get him a bride and everything. I just spoke to him. He’s so happy. This is a reminder, God doesn’t forget anyone.”
A total of 477 Palestinian prisoners were released on Tuesday with 550 other Palestinians to be freed in the next two months.
Israeli Prime Minister Bejnamin Netanyahu spoke at a press conference at Tel Nof airbase on Tuesday. “Today is a happy day and a sad day for Israel. When I returned to the position of Prime Minister in 2009, I had a important task waiting for me: to return our soldier Gilad Shalit home.”
However Netanyahu was quick to warn the freed Palestinian militants.
“We will continue to fight terror and every released terrorist who returns to terror will be held accountable,” Netanyahu said.
Video – Watch Gilad Shalit’s reception after arriving in Israel.
Photo Slideshow – Gilad Shalit returns home to Israel after 5 years in captivity.