In the nearly three-minute video viewed by Israeli officials for authenticity and flown by helicopter to Sergeant Shalit’s family, the soft-spoken 23-year-old appeared clear-minded and healthy, though thin. Holding a Gaza newspaper dated Sept. 14, 2009, he offered family and countrymen the first visual proof of his well-being in three years, following three letters and an audio recording.
“Although the path to Gilad’s release is still long, the fact that he is healthy and whole is encouraging,” said Nir Hefetz, a spokesman for Netanyahu, according to the Associated Press.
Indeed, the swap boosted hopes on both sides that a broader prisoner-exchange deal could follow, freeing Shalit and opening the way for Israel to lift its economic blockade of Gaza.
Hamas, which heralded the female prisoners’ release with great fanfare Friday, is pressing for hundreds of Palestinians to be set free in exchange for returning Shalit. Israel has pledged to continue the blockade, which has drawn severe criticism from human rights organizations, until he is released.
Israel is due to release an additional female prisoner on Sunday, after revelations that a prisoner released Wednesday as part of the deal, Bara’ah Malki, was nearly done with her sentence anyway.
Read more here about the 15-year-old girl with braces who was feted at her home in a West Bank refugee camp Thursday, 11 months after being arrested for an aborted plan to stab Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint.
Click here to watch the video of Gilad Shalit.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.