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Israelis Mark Shalit's First Full Day Of Freedom


TV screens in Israel were filled with mages of a pale and clearly shaken Gilad Shalit, as the country celebrated his release after five years in captivity.

Sheera Frenkel reports.

SHEERA FRENKEL, BYLINE: The first sight of Gilad Shalit on Israeli soil shows a young, frail man being assisted by some of Israel's top military officials onto a plane. Worry about Shalit's physical health was briefly put aside, however, when photos of a smiling Shalit, embraced by his father, were released.

In the foreground of the photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu smiles benevolently. That photo has already been added to Israel's national roster of iconic images.

Some say the release of Shalit is Netanyahu's crowning moment. In polls conducted in various Israeli outlets yesterday, Netanyahu's popularity soared. Israel's left-wing daily, Haaretz, normally critical of Netanyahu, said he'd emerged a new leader after returning Shalit to his family.

Hundreds gathered Tuesday at the Shalit family home to welcome the young soldier back from his captivity. They waved flags and posters reading: Shalit, you were gone far too long. We missed you. When the family entered their home together, the crowd broke out into song and dance, many with tears streaming down their cheeks.

Israeli authorities have asked the Israeli public to give the Shalit family privacy in the coming weeks, and a police cordon has been erected to keep curious onlookers from the area.

Noam Shalit, father of Gilad, said that his son was happy to be home.

NOAM SHALIT: (Through translator) We are, as you've probably seen today, finishing a long ordeal. We thank all those who have helped us. We are experiencing the rebirth of our son. Gilad feels well, though he's suffering for some minor injuries, fragments to his legs that he received while he was captured, and were not treated properly.

FRENKEL: Physicians who have examined Shalit said he was pale and week, largely from lack of sunshine and limited physical movement. They said he should recover quickly, and that experts in trauma and stress were on hand to ease his adjustment.

For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sheera Frenkel