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Gilad Shalit back in Israel, expressing hope for peace agreement

October 18, 2011 |  3:27 am

Gilad
REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was back in Israel on Tuesday morning after 1,941 days of captivity in the Gaza Strip after his 2006 capture during a cross-border raid.

Egyptian media released the first pictures and comments from the young man, who appeared pale and gaunt, wearing a black baseball cap and untucked shirt as he was transferred from a car by Egyptian handlers. It was the first time Shalit had been seen publicly since Hamas released a 2009 video, showing the soldier, with dark circles under his eyes but smiling weakly, reading a newspaper and joking that it contained no news about his release.

Photo gallery: Gilad Shalit release

Before his handover to Israel, Shalit appeared tired, anxious and uncomfortable during an interview on Egyptian TV, sometimes seeming to struggle to catch his breath.  But he calmly and politely answered an interviewer's questions.

"I always believed that the day would come that I would be released,'' he said, adding that he learned of the prisoner swap deal a week ago. "I have a lot to do when I'm free."

Shalit said he was looking forward to seeing his family and friends, and sharing his experience with them.

Asked by the Egyptian interviewer if he would work to help secure the release of other Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, Shalit said he would be happy to see them reunited with their families and that he hoped the spirit of cooperation that led to his release would continue between Israelis and Palestinians.

"I hope this deal will advance peace and not lead to war,'' he said.

Israeli officials confirmed that Shalit, 25, was in their hands and back on Israeli soil. About the same time, buses carrying Palestinian prisoners began to cross into the Gaza as expected.

First on the agenda for Shalit was a call to his parents. After that, Shalit he was expected to undergo a medical exam.

If his health permits, Shalit will be flown to the Tel Nof Israeli air force base, where his family is waiting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After a private reunion, the Shalit family is scheduled to fly to their home in northern Israel.

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-- Edmund Sanders

Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Gilad Shalit speaks on the phone with his family at an Israeli Defense Forces base Credit: EPA

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