October 30, 2020

Israeli soldier emerges from 5 years of captivity

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MITZPE HILA, Israel (AP) — Gaunt and pale, Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit returned home Tuesday after more than five years in captivity, freed in a lopsided exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners that could greatly complicate Mideast peace prospects and strengthen the Islamic militant Hamas.

The swap set off massive celebrations in Israel and the Palestinian territories, where crowds in Gaza called for more kidnappings of soldiers, chanting: “The people want a new Gilad!”

The 25-year-old Schalit’s poor condition, a jarring appearance by masked Hamas men during his release and the prospects of a strengthened Hamas bode poorly for future relations between Israel and the Palestinians.

By winning the release of hundreds of militants accused in notorious suicide bombings of the Palestinian uprising a decade ago, Hamas reinforced its message that Palestinian goals are advanced most effectively through violent struggle, and not the moderate approach of diplomacy favored by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“Israel was forced to pay the price,” Hamas’ supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal, boasted in a meeting in Egypt, where he greeted 40 freed prisoners who were immediately sent into exile under the terms of their release.

To Israelis, the return of a young man whose plight had become a national obsession brought a welcome lift.

 

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