AFP
Last updated: 11 December, 2011

Freed Israel soldier Shalit thanks supporters

Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held captive by militants in Gaza for more than five years, has thanked his supporters in a pre-recorded message — his first since being freed in October.

In the recording, a nervous but healthy-looking Shalit offers his thanks to those who waged a “long and exhausting campaign” for his freedom.

“While in captivity I heard a lot about your efforts to release me,” he said. “I know for sure that your determined struggle for my release… was one of the decisive factors in bringing me home.”

The video recording was broadcast late on Saturday to a group of around 300 activists who gathered outside Shalit’s family home to watch the message.

It was later shown on Israeli television and posted online, including on YouTube.

The recording showed Shalit to be visibly more healthy than the gaunt figure who emerged from captivity on October 18, but he still appeared nervous and unsettled and local media said he had been advised against appearing in public for now.

Shalit, captured during a cross-border raid by several Palestinian militant groups on June 25, 2006, was freed on October 18 in exchange for the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in two phases.

The prisoner exchange deal was negotiated after years of failed attempts by Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas to reach a formula for Shalit’s release.

Few details have emerged about Shalit’s time in captivity, though his father has denied reports that the young soldier staged a hunger strike towards the end of his captivity.

Shalit was reportedly allowed to listen to Israeli radio during his captivity, where he heard of the efforts of activists in Israel and overseas calling for his release.