Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was freed on Tuesday after five years in detention by Palestinian militants, said he hoped the prisoner swap in which he was liberated would lead to peace between both sides.
“I hope this deal helps achieve peace between both sides, Israel and the Palestinians,” he told Egyptian television in his first interview since his release.
“I feel like I am in good health,” Shalit said in Hebrew through an interpreter.
Wearing a checkered shirt and smiling occasionally, Shalit took short breaths as he thanked all those who worked for his release.
Under terms of the long-awaited deal signed last week between Israel and its sworn enemy Hamas, and mediated by Egypt, the Jewish state will free a total of 1,027 prisoners to secure the release of the now 25-year-old soldier.
“I think the Egyptians succeeded (in achieving the deal) because of their good relations with Hamas and the Israeli side. These good relations helped complete the deal,” Shalit said.
He said that after all these years in captivity, he hoped to see the rest of the Palestinian prisoners released.
“I would be very happy if they were all released so that they can go back to their families and their lands. I would be very happy if this happened,” he said.
Shalit heard one week ago that he would be released, after years of off-and-on negotiations.
“I can’t describe how I felt, but I felt that I was about to face some very difficult times,” he told the interviewer, who asked the interpreter to rush because she felt Shalit “looks tired.”
“I missed my family very much. I also missed my friends. I very much missed meeting ordinary people to talk to them about my experience,” Shalit said.
The soldier has been held by militants in Gaza for more than five years and the deal marks the highest price ever paid for the release of one person.
Shalit was a 19-year-old corporal on duty along the Gaza border when he was captured on June 25, 2006 by militants from three Gaza-based groups, including Hamas.
Three days after he was snatched, Israel launched a massive military operation against Gaza in a bid to secure his release, which lasted five months and left more than 400 Palestinians dead.
After entering Israel, Shalit will be flown to Tel Nof air base in southern Israel where he will join his family and meet Israeli leaders.
Shalit’s parents Noam and Aviva, his brother Yoel, sister Hadass and his grandfather have already arrived at the air base where they met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister’s office said.