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Hamas frees kidnapped Israeli soldier

by Jorge Hernandez on October 18, 2011

Kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit returned home Tuesday morning after spending five years in the custody of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Shalit's release was part of a larger prisoner swap that will see more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners freed from Israeli jails, The Washington Post reports.

Shalit had been held in the Gaza Strip since June 2006 when members of Hamas tunneled into Israel through Gaza and captured the then-19-year-old soldier. Despite looking much skinnier than he was five years ago, Shalit appeared healthy when he returned to Israel and was greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Although Netanyahu managed to secure Shalit's release, he had to pay a stiff price for doing so. Many of the 1,027 Palestinian prisoners that were freed were convicted of carrying out attacks against Israeli citizens.

"On this day all of us are united in happiness and pain," Netanyahu said, according to the news source.

The prime minister painted the decision as one of the most difficult of his two-and-a-half years in office. However, he has maintained that it was the best deal he could get for Shalit's freedom, and wrote a letter to the families of some of the victims of the attacks expressing his misgivings for the exchange.

Experts believe that the deal will likely have no positive impact on the relations between Israel and Palestine, especially after negotiations between the two countries fell apart last year. Futhermore, Hamas has viewed the swap as a victory and believes it has weakened Israel considerably.

"This is the greatest joy for the Palestinian people," Azzia al-Qawasmeh, whose son was among those released, told Reuters.

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