Schalit boards IAF helicopter on way home to Mitzpe Hila

Netanyahu to freshly-released IDF soldier: "Welcome to Israel, it's good that you're home"; Schalit finishes undergoing medical examinations at Tel Nof IAF base; 200 await him at entrance to home.

October 18, 2011 16:20
3 minute read.
Gilad Schalit hugs father Noam

Gilad Schalit hugs father Noam, PM in background 311 . (photo credit: GPO)


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Gilad Schalit on Tuesday afternoon took off in an IAF helicopter from the Tel Nof Air Force Base in central Israel, on the final leg of his journey home to Mitzpe Hila. Schalit was released from over five years of Hamas captivity early Tuesday morning.

Police were making final preparations for the imminent arrival of Schalit and his family at Mitzpe Hila, in northern Israel near the Lebanese border. "The helicopter carrying him will land in a field about a kilometer from his house. He and his family will be escorted to his home," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

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"There are about 200 people at the entrance to his home waiting to receive him. We have recorded no unusual incidents," Rosenfeld said.

The helicopter trip was expected to take 30 to 40 minutes.

Schalit was welcomed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as he landed at Tel Nof Air Force base in Rehovot earlier on Tuesday afternoon, before being reunited with his family.

As Schalit stepped out of the helicopter that brought him to the base, the prime minister said to him: "Welcome to Israel, it's good that you're home."

Before Schalit met with his parents, Netanyahu told them: "I brought you back your child." IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz also welcomed Schalit, calling him a hero.

When the helicopter landed, Gantz boarded it, Schalit saluted and then Gantz saluted back. "I am proud of you and the way you survived a difficult period," the IDF chief told Schalit.

After meeting with his family - his mother, father, grandfather, brother and sister - Schalit underwent further medical examinations at the IAF base.

The soldier was declared to be in reasonable health, following an initial IDF medical examination at an IDF base in the South.

IDF medics said that though Schalit was in a reasonably good condition, there were a few issues that caused concern, including his pale skin and the fact that he was limping.

The pale skin indicates that he was not exposed to sunlight during his captivity, according to the IDF doctors. They also noted that he was much skinnier than when he was captured, which suggests that he was malnourished. The IDF medical team suspected that the limp was from an injury he had when he was captured in 2006.

Noam and Aviv Schalit, Gilad's parents, had a brief and emotional telephone conversation with him while he was at the southern base.

Earlier Tuesday, the IDF confirmed that Schalit was on Israeli soil, as Egyptian TV released video footage of the solider in Egypt.

Egyptian military officials received Schalit from Hamas control on the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing and updated the IDF command post at the Kerem Shalom crossing of the transaction earlier on Tuesday morning.

Upon passing into Israel, Schalit was guarded by soldiers of the Israel Air Force's 669 unit, who will accompany him until he is home safe in Mitzpe Hila.

As part of a carefully orchestrated prisoner swap, Israel released 477 Palestinian prisoners on Tuesday morning, with a further 550 set for release in two months' time.

Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report

Click for full JPost coverage on Gilad Schalit

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