Homecoming in the making: The IDF has all but finished its preparations for the long-awaited return of Sergeant First Class Gilad Shalit after five years in Hamas captivity, Ynet learned on Monday.
Shalit's return to Israel is expected on Tuesday. He will be released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.
- Poll: 79% of Israelis support Shalit deal
Military sources told Ynet that the IDF is gearing for any scenario that may impede the deal's smooth execution. The most volatile point in the exchange is expected to be 6 am – which is when Shalit is scheduled to arrive at the Rafah crossing, where he will be met by the Egyptian mediators who are supposed to shuttle him to Sinai.
The IDF is preparing to foil any threat to the deal, be it on the Egyptian or Israeli side of the border. Military sources said that the IDF was looking at every scenario, from demonstrators opposing the deal trying to prevent the planned prisoners' transport to Ramallah and the Kerem Shalom crossing, to possible "price tag" acts by extreme right-wing elements.
'Welcome Home' banner at Kerem Shalom crossing (Photo: Eliad Levy)
The IDF's Central and Southern commands will be on high alert overnight, as Operation Beit Hashoeva – as the prisoner exchange has been dubbed – gets underway.
The first prisoner transport will include 96 inmates who will be shuttled to the Ofer Detention Center, where they will board Red Cross busses.
Virtual media embargo
Gilad Shalit's first stop once back in Israel will be the Amitai IDF Base, where he will finally contact his family, as well as undergo a medical exam.
From there he will be flown to the Tel Nof Airbase, where he will reunite with his family for the first time in over five years. The Air Force has arranged for special transport for the Shalits to Tel Nof, and a special "sterile zone" has been set up on the base, to ensure the family's privacy. Shalit is expected to undergo a second medical exam in Tel Nof, as well.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Benny Gantz will also meet with Shalit briefly, after which they are expected to address the media.
In order to ensure the family's privacy, the IDF has restricted media access to a special compound set up outside the base.
Security sources said that the defense establishment wants to afford the Shalit family as much privacy as possible over the immediate time following Gilad's return. To that effect, the Defense Ministry has been able to secure the various media outlets' consent to a special set of "coverage rules," barring them from approaching the family for 10 days.
The IDF estimates that at least 300 reporters from Israeli and foreign media outlets are expected to attend Tuesday's special press conference.
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