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Gilad Shalit freedom marks a milestone. Now lift the Gaza blockade, says Hamas.

Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier was freed today after being held for more than five years in Gaza. Some 477 Palestinian prisoners were released at the same time.

By Josh MitnickCorrespondent / October 18, 2011

Gilad Shalit (c.) salutes in front of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (l.) upon his arrival at Tel Nof air base in central Israel on Tuesday. Shalit returned home to a national outpouring of joy after five years in captivity as hundreds of Palestinian prisoners exchanged for him were greeted with kisses from Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip.

GPO/Reuters

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Tel Aviv

Israel and Hamas carried out an unprecedented prisoner swap on Tuesday, freeing Israeli Sgt. Gilad Shalit after five years in captivity as some 477 Palestinian prisoners were released to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Egypt.

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The dramatic exchange, which kept Israelis and Palestinians on edge until the final moment of the swap, marks a milestone in the relations between the two sworn enemies.

Sergeant Shalit’s abduction prompted Israel to tighten its blockade on the Gaza Strip, and his release removes a bone of contention that destabilized the volatile border.

Looking emaciated, exhausted, and wearing a black baseball cap, Shalit emerged from imprisonment at the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing. He was accompanied by the chief of Hamas’s military wing, Ahmed Jaberi, according to Israeli state-run television's Channel 1.

He was later handed over to Israeli military representatives and crossed back to Israel at the Kerem Shalom crossing, located at the intersection of Israel, Egypt, and the Gaza Strip. He later flew by helicopter to the Tel Nof military base where he was reunited with his family.

"Gilad Shalit has returned home more than five years after the mission he embarked on," said Israel's chief army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, adding that Shalit is in good health.

"I’m moved,’’ he told Egyptian television, his voice faltering in an interview before returning to Israel. "I hope the deal with advance peace and there won’t be clashes between Israelis and the Palestinians."

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