After 1,941 days in Hamas captivity, Gilad Shalit has finally reunited with his family: Less than an hour after the IDF soldier's release and return to Israel, an IAF helicopter transported him to Tel Nof air base in central Israel, where he met his loved ones who worked tirelessly for his release: parents Noam and Aviva, siblings Yoel and Hadas and grandfather Tzvi.
Gilad embraces his father Noam as Netanyahu watches from behind (Photo: GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also met with Shalit at the base. He told him: "Welcome back to the State of Israel. It's so good to have you home."
Zvi Shalit, Gilad's grandfather, said his grandson was in "better condition that we feared." Describing the family reunion at the Tel Nof base, he said: "Gilad spoke very quietly and said he was tired and wanted to go to sleep."
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Shalit underwent extensive medical examinations after he felt ill on his way to Tel Nof. IDF medical teams decided that despite the temporary setback, Shalit will fly home to Mitzpe Hila later Tuesday afternoon.
Shalit with his father Noam, Netanyahu and Barak (Photo: GPO)
After returning to Israel just before noon on Tuesday, Shalit underwent a preliminary physical examination. IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said his medical condition was "good and stable". Shalit also showered, put on an IDF uniform and spoke with his parents before flying to Tel Nof.
The freed Israeli soldier entered the Kerem Shalom crossing just before noon on Tuesday and was greeted by Israeli army officers, including OC Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Tal Rousso.
Netanyahu said during a ceremony at Tel Nof air base that the decision to make a deal with Hamas for Shalit's release was difficult. "As a soldier I went on dangerous missions and always knew that if I fell captive the Israeli government will do everything in its power to secure my release and that is what I did."
He further added: "The State of Israel will continue to fight against terror and any terrorist who resumes terror activities – on their head be it." Netanyahu said that the moments spent with Gilad Shalit were very moving and noted that today was "a hard day".
Netanyahu also issued a staunch warning to the freed terrorists. "We will continue to fight terror and every released terrorist who returns to terror will be held accountable," he said.
IDF Chief Gantz hugs Shalit upon his arrival at Tel Nof (Photo: GPO)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Shalit looks perfectly well noting he showed amazing self-restraint.
'It was our responsibility to take any necessary measure to bring him home safely even at a heavy cost, but not at any cost, and we did this today," he said.
In an interview broadcast by Egyptian television on Tuesday moments after he was transferred into Egyptian custody, Shalit said, "I thought I'd find myself in this situation for many years to come".
Shalit said that he received word of his expected release last week. "I've felt it coming in the past month. I'm very excited."
At the beginning of the interview, Gilad was asked about his medical condition, to which he replied: "I don't feel so well from the whole affair." However, he was translated back into Arabic as saying: "I feel good."
The first images of Shalit were aired at 1030 Israel time, as he was seen escorted by Egyptian security personnel at a terminal in Egypt. Ahmed Jabari, head of Hamas' military wing, was one of those seen leading Shalit in the video.
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