After nearly five and a half years in Hamas captivity in Gaza, without a single visit from the Red Cross, a doctor or his family, Gilad Shalit returned to Israel on Tuesday and at press time was on his way home with his family.
His release came about after Israel and Hamas, with the help of German and Egyptian negotiators, agreed on a prisoner exchange deal that will see 1,027 Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for Shalit.
On Tuesday, the complicated, multiphased exchange began at dawn in a series of carefully executed steps.
5:38 a.m.: Red Cross officials arrive at Israeli prison to identify all prisoners cleared for release.
6:50 a.m.: Shalit family sets out from their home in Mitzpe Hila to the Air Force base in Tel Nof near Rehovot. “Even the policemen are smiling,” a Mitzpe Hila resident tells the media.
7:35 a.m.: Gilad Shalit is transferred from Gaza to Egypt via the Rafah border crossing in a convoy of Hamas vehicles.
7:41 a.m.: All Palestinian prisoners are put on Red Cross transport vehicles. Now they wait for the go-ahead from Egypt to commence the final exchange.
Just before 8 a.m.: Gilad Shalit arrives on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing and is officially in Egyptian hands. The IDF receives word that Shalit is in Egypt and allows the convoy of Palestinian prisoners to leave Ofer prison en route to Beitunia, near Ramallah.
8:03 a.m.: IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz makes his way to Tel Nof Air Force base in anticipation of Gilad Shalit’s arrival.
8:18 a.m.: Shalit’s family arrives at Tel Nof Air Force base. Noam Shalit, father of Gilad Shalit, says, according to Ha’aretz: “You can say this is one of the happiest days of my life.”
8:38 a.m.: Hamas confirms that Gilad Shalit has been transferred to Egypt.
9:31 a.m.: Unattributed reports emerge that two female Palestinian prisoners are refusing to be deported to Gaza, possibly holding up the exchange.
9:37 a.m.: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at Tel Nof Air Force base and meets with the Shalit family.
10:16 a.m.: IDF confirms that Gilad Shalit has been identified, alive and well, at the Egypt-Gaza border.
10:23 a.m.: First images of Gilad Shalit are broadcast on Egyptian television. These are the first photos shown of him in more than two years. Ahmad Jabari, the commander of Hamas’ military wing in Gaza, can be seen walking behind Shalit.
10:38 a.m.: Confirmation is received that Gilad Shalit has returned to Israel following more than five years of captivity.
10:44 a.m.: Shalit family, sitting in a private room at the Tel Nof Air Force base, see the first images of their son.
11:08 a.m.: Egyptian TV broadcasts interview with Gilad Shalit. “Hamas treated me well,” Shalit says.
11:55 a.m.: It is announced that prisoners will be released in Ramallah, not Beitunia, reportedly because protesters were burning tires at the scene. Palestinians awaiting the bus of prisoners become furious and clash with IDF in West Bank, throwing stones and beginning to riot. The IDF deploys tear gas and other crowd-control measures to calm the masses.
11:58 a.m.: IDF reports that Gilad Shalit has been positively identified at Rafah, and the prisoner exchange will commence.
Around 12:15 p.m.: IDF representatives meet with Gilad Shalit and begin moving him toward the Kerem Shalom border crossing into Israel.
12:16 p.m.: First video of Gilad Shalit is released, showing him greeted by IDF troops. Shalit is shown wearing glasses, and unconfirmed reports emerge that during his time in captivity he was not given glasses.
12:25 p.m.: IDF reports that prisoner transfer into Judea and Samaria, Israel and Egypt is complete.
12:45 p.m.: Gilad Shalit lands at Tel Nof Air Force base.
1:04 p.m.: Shalit is reunited with his family at the Tel Nof Air Force base.
1:09 p.m.: Netanyahu meets with Shalit, tells him: How good that you have returned home.
1:18 p.m.: Netanyahu speaks at press conference at Tel Nof Air Force base, says “Two years ago, I returned to the post of prime minister. One of the main and most complicated missions I found on my desk was to return Gilad Shalit home alive and well. Today that mission was accomplished.”
—Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JointMedia News Service