Gilad Shalit met by ecstatic parade as he returns home after 5 years
25-year-old Shalit was released Tuesday morning following a long-awaited prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas.
By Haaretz and Ilan Lior
Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit was greeted by an ecstatic welcome from hundreds of his friends, relatives and supporters as he arrived at his home in the northern town of Mitzpe Hila on Tuesday afternoon, hours after he was reunited with his parents and brother for the first time since he was abducted and taken to Gaza in June 2006.
Masses filled the streets in a carnival-like parade singing “Heveinu Shalom Aleichim” and marching with flags as the 25-year-old Shalit was driven up to his house for the first time in five years. Supporters who lined the street threw flowers at the IDF vehicle which transported the Shalit family to their home.
Shalit was released from Hamas captivity on Tuesday morning and taken to the Israel Air Force base in Tel Nof, central Israel shortly afterward. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak greeted Shalit as he arrived at the air base, accompanied by an IDF medical team.
“Hello, Gilad. Welcome back to Israel,” said Netanyahu. “It’s so good to have you home.” Shalit, who changed into an IDF uniform before a helicopter ride from the Gaza border, saluted the prime minister and then embraced him. A short time later, he saw his family again.
In an interview to the Egyptian Nile TV station Shalit said he learned of the deal to secure his release a week ago, and said that he had missed his family and friends during his captivity.
Immediately after his release, Shalit had a private phone conversation with his family members for the first time since being taken captive by Hamas in June 2006.
IDF Spokesman Yoav Mordechai said an initial physical examination of the IDF soldier found Shalit to be in good health.
He said later, however, that Shalit had felt unwell during the flight to the IAF base, and underwent a more comprehensive check-up before the decision was made to send fly him home by helicopter under medical supervision.
Israel freed 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners to get Shalit back, including many who had been involved in terror attacks on Israeli civilians. The deal had been contested by Israelis who had lost family members in the attacks perpetrated by these convicted terrorists.
IDF warns soldiers of kidnappings ahead of Gilad Shalit’s release
Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz
The Israel Defense Forces is telling its combat units that soldiers should make sure not to become “another Gilad Shalit” and be abducted.
“I deliver this message in any discussion in which the topic of Gilad Shalit or other POWs comes up,” an infantry battalion commander said. “Under no circumstances should a soldier be taken hostage. Our soldiers do their utmost to prevent this from happening – they [are ordered] to fire at a group of abductors even if that means their IDF comrade would be killed. And the soldiers understand this fully: They cannot become another Gilad Shalit.”
Sometimes this message is articulated in public. Two years ago, Nahal commander Moti Baruch told Haaretz that “our message is that no soldier can be taken hostage, and this message is delivered categorically.” At the time, Baruch’s troops were serving on the Gaza border.
Baruch, now a brigadier general, said that “officers can, while evaluating conditions in the field, reach an array of decisions, but they are required to prevent a kidnapping.”
He said the soldiers’ main concern is to attack hostage-taking terrorists, even if that means injury or death to the kidnapped soldier.
“In the end, when dealing with such an event, you have to look at it as an occurrence where there’s an enemy before you think about it as one where there’s a kidnapped soldier,” said Baruch. So he makes sure his soldiers train regularly for such a scenario.
Two weeks after Israel’s Gaza offensive nearly three years ago, a recording of a discussion led by Lt. Col. Shuki Ribak reached the media. At the time, Ribak was the commander of the Golani Brigade’s 51st battalion; he was speaking to his troops before they entered the Gaza Strip.
“I don’t need to tell you this, but no soldier from the 51st battalion can be kidnapped, at any cost, not in any circumstance,” he said. “That can mean that a soldier should detonate his hand grenade and blow himself up [together] with the person trying to abduct him.”
The IDF Spokesman’s Office, however, said there is no standing order in the army along these lines. But many officers supported the practice.
A few months ago, a high-ranking tank officer said that “this subject is clear to all soldiers and their officers …. It’s clear what we expect from soldiers.”
Today, the IDF does not comment publicly on this rule drawn up in 1986 by a group of top officers, including Yossi Peled, today a cabinet member, and Gabi Ashkenazi, who later became chief of staff.
The order, revealed by Haaretz in 2003, states that “at the time of a kidnapping the main mission becomes forcing the release of the abducted soldiers from their kidnappers, even if that means injury to our soldiers.”
Today, soldiers say that when this rule is mentioned in briefings and discussions between officers and soldiers, no one protests the rationale.
All Freed Detainees Are Now In Gaza And Ramallah
By Saed Bannoura, IMEMC & Agencies
Every Palestinian detainee released in the first phase of the prisoners-swap deal between Israel and the Hamas movement, except those sent to Egypt, are now safely in Gaza and Ramallah. This article includes the speeches of President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, and Hamas leader, Hasan Yousef, standing next to him.
The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, held a conference to welcome the detainees back, and expressed to them that they “are freedom fighters: for God and the country.”
Abbas said that he hopes that all detainees in Israeli prisons will be freed, and will be able to return home.
The President further stated that the suffering and steadfastness of the detainees will never be wasted.
“You sacrificed, you struggled, and you will see the outcome of this struggle: a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Abbas said, “Your case was always our main focus around the world, we will continue to act for the release of all detainees.”
“God willing, we will soon see brother Marwan Barghouthi, brother Ahmad Saadat, Ibrahim Hamed, Abbas Al Sayyid, and every other detainee coming back home,” Abbas stated, and also wished speedy recovery for Ahmad Saadat, after his health condition deteriorates as he and the rest of the detainees continue their hunger-strike. Saadat is the secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
He also thanked Egypt for its role in the deal, and in the reconciliation agreement between Fateh and Hamas, adding that this deal was initiated by the detainees in Israeli jails, “who acted for the unity of their people.”
“Brothers and sisters, we are acting to achieve an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The future state will be in the 1967 borders, and Israel must stop all of its settlement activities and violations,” Abbas said, “I won’t be telling a secret when I say that there is an agreement between us and Israel for the release of more detainees after this deal is concluded, therefore, we are asking them [Israel] to abide by their vows, if they give weight to their own promises.”
“We are building the institutions of our future state, we have strong institutions, not found in other countries”, the president continued. “Brothers and sisters, your family and friends, wherever they are, are happy for you, for your release, but, let me say, that we owe all of this, after God, to all of the martyrs who have sacrificed themselves for our country”.
Standing next to Abbas, Hamas leader Hasan Yousef, stated in his speech which followed Abbas’, that, “as much as we are happy for the release of the detainees, we are also in pain, because we still have brothers and sisters in Israeli jails,” and added that the Palestinian people will always act for the release of all detainees.
Yousef further stated that the Palestinian people have the capabilities to act for the release of all detainees, and that this prisoner-swap deal is a proof that resistance is an effective measure, to be conducted side-by-side with other venues of resistance and politics.
“Mr. President, we all came here to your home, representing all factions and segments of our society, to affirm our unity; we have no choice but to unite,” he started, “Mr. President, we all stand together, united, to counter the illegal Israeli policies that deny our legitimate rights. We want to thank Egypt, for its important local and regional role, and we want to thank every side that helped in achieving this deal. We want to thank The President and all Arab countries, we are all brothers, and we must send a special thank you to our people in the Gaza Strip”.
Thousands then started to chant: “With our soul and blood we sacrifice for Palestine,” and Yousef chanted with them.
In Gaza, Ismail Haniyya of Hamas, and several political and military leaders of the movement and other factions, welcomed the detainees who were sent to Gaza, and affirmed that the resistance fights for the liberation of its people, and has achieved victories.
Meanwhile, Cairo declared a state of emergency at the Cairo International Airport, as 40 of the released detainees will be flown out to Turkey, Qatar and Syria, as Israel stipulated in their release agreement.
It is worth mentioning that clashes were reported at the Betunia terminal leading to Ramallah, after the Israeli army closed the terminal when thousands of residents gathered there to welcome the detainees home.
The army used waste-water cannons and tear gas, to force the residents away, just after they removed the Red Cross from the scene.
There are approximately 5000 detainees who are still imprisoned by Israel; dozens of whom have been imprisoned for twenty years or more.
Zahhar added that this issue was agreed upon when the German mediator started his role in the prisoner-exchange talks. “This is still valid under the current agreement,” he said.
The Hamas leader further stated that the deal to release prisoner-of-war Gilad Shalit, in return for releasing more than a thousand Palestinian detainees, also includes a section obliging Israel to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian detainees, adding that Gaza Strip families of the detainees will be allowed to visit their beloved ones.
After Shalit was captured on June 26th, 2006, Israel canceled all visitation rights to the families of political prisoners who resided within the Gaza Strip.
Zahhar also insisted that Israel will have to ease the restrictions on border terminals leading to Gaza, including travel from Gaza to the West Bank via Israel.
Moreover, he stated that the deal incorporated the increasing of exports from the Gaza Strip to Israel and abroad.
Meanwhile, officials at the Israeli Defense Ministry stated that the Shalit deal represents a shift in the relations between Hamas and Israel, adding that in recent months Israel started easing the siege on Gaza as part of an unofficial ceasefire between Hamas and Tel Aviv.
Minister: Detainees suspend strike after deal on isolation
RAMALLAH – Palestinians jailed in Israel suspended a three-week hunger strike on Monday, the minister of detainee affairs in Ramallah said.
Issa Qaraqe told the official Wafa news agency that prisoners ended the strike after Israeli prison authorities agreed to end the practice of solitary confinement.
Israel will stop holding detainees in isolation on Tuesday, immediately after releasing 477 prisoners in a swap deal to free captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Qaraqe said.
Prisoners went on hunger strike on Sept. 27 to protest harsher conditions since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to toughen measures in June to pressure Hamas to free Shalit.
An end to solitary confinement was a key demand of the strikers.
The protest was started by detainees affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whose leader Ahmad Saadat has been held in isolation for three years. Saadat, who joined the hunger strike, was one of several prominent prisoners left out of the swap deal.
PFLP central committee member Jamil Mizhir warned on Monday that the movement would take action against Israel after receiving reports that Saadat had been transferred to hospital.
Mizhir said in a statement that the group blamed Israel for his health condition,
“If Saadat’s condition is at risk, the PFLP response will be very harsh,” Mizhir warned.
According to recent estimates from the Palestinian Authority, there are currently 6,000 Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails.