Gaunt Schalit needs time to recover, father says

In this photo released by the Israeli Defense Ministry, released Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, second right, walks with his father Noam, right, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second left, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, left, at the Tel Nof Air base in southern Israel, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011. Looking thin, weary and dazed, an Israeli soldier returned home Tuesday from more than five years of captivity in the Gaza Strip in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners whose joyful families greeted them with massive celebrations. HO, Ariel Hermoni,AP Photo/ Defense Ministry

Updated 2:45 PM EST

MITZPE HILA, Israel - The father of the Israeli soldier freed in a swap for Palestinian prisoners said his son will need time to recover from psychological and physical wounds after five years in Hamas captivity.

But he said the family of Gilad Schalit hopes the young man will lead a normal life.

Noam Schalit spoke to reporters outside the family home in the Israeli town of Mitzpe Hila.

Schalit said his son is still suffering from shrapnel wounds he suffered during his 2006 abduction by Hamas militants. He said his son is struggling with all the attention after spending the last few years in "isolation."

"Naturally he can't be exposed to so many people because he was in isolation so many days and years and couldn't interact with people in his language, and all he could do was communicate with his abductors and guards," Noam Schalit said.

He said his son hadn't said much about his captivity, only that his treatment was poor at the beginning but improved in recent years.

Looking thin, weary and dazed, Gilad Schalit had earlier emerged from more than five years in Hamas captivity on Tuesday, surrounded by Gaza militants with black face masks and green headbands who handed him over to Egyptian mediators in an exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. After a medical examination, Israeli officials said Schalit showed signs of malnutrition.

Mass rallies celebrate freed Palestinians
Netanyahu issues warning to freed Palestinians

Before he was flown to an Israel air base where he reunited with his parents, Schalit spoke to Egyptian TV in an interview Israeli officials later called "shocking." The gaunt, sallow and uncomfortable looking Schalit appeared to struggle to speak at times, and his breathing was noticeably labored as he awkwardly answered questions.

Still he said he felt good and was "very excited" to be going free. But the circumstances of his release, along with the awkward TV interview, raised questions about the conditions the 25-year-old had endured.

After a tumultuous day that included a reception with the prime minister and an emotional reunion with his family, Schalit touched down in his hometown of Mitzpe Hila in northern Israel late Tuesday on board a military helicopter.

Thousands of people jammed the streets and stood on rooftops to celebrate Schalit's return. The ecstatic crowd sang songs, waved Israeli flags, popped champagne bottles, embraced and cheered him on. A smiling Schalit -- the first Israeli soldier returned home alive in 26 years -- briefly waved to the crowd before ducking into his family's house. Police blocked access to the street to give the family privacy.

The White House welcomed the release of Schalit.

Spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama has long called for Schalit's release and is pleased that he's been reunited with this family.

Schalit, who had not been seen in public since his capture, was whisked across Gaza's border into Egypt early in the morning by armed Hamas militants in an SUV, setting the swap into motion.

Wearing a black baseball hat and gray shirt, he was seen for the first time emerging from a pickup truck and turned over to Egyptian mediators by a gang of top Hamas militants, some with their faces covered in black masks with the green headband of the Qassam brigades -- Hamas' military wing. Among those around Schalit in those first moments was Ahmed Jabari, the shadowy head of Hamas' militant wing, one of Israel's most wanted militants.

Schalit, still escorted by Hamas gunmen, was then taken to a border crossing, where an Egyptian TV crew waited to interview him before he was finally sent into Israel.

(Watch CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips' "Early Show" report on the Israeli-Palestinian prisoner exchange.)

Stumbling over his words, he spoke in the interview of missing his family and friends, said he feared he would remain in captivity "many more years" and worried that the deal might fall through after learning about it last week.

"Of course I missed my family. I missed friends, meeting people to talk to people, and not to sit all day, to do the same things," he said.

In one picture taken of the interview, a Hamas gunman with black face mask and green headband of the Hamas military brigade could be seen lurking in the background.

Israeli officials reacted angrily to the interview, saying it was inappropriate to force Schalit to answer questions in such difficult circumstances. But the interviewer, Shahira Amin, said he had not been coerced.

Later, video released by the Israeli military showed the weak Schalit being helped into an army jeep after crossing the border into Israel, and walking gingerly down some steps as he exited a military caravan after changing into a fresh army uniform. Military officials said a physical exam had found him to be in "good" condition, though he showed signs of malnutrition and lack of exposure to the sun.

Gilad Shalit arrives near his home town
Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (C) and his father Noam (L) arrive near their home town following Gilad's release after over five years of captivity by Gaza-based militant groups, following a landmark deal with Hamas, on October 18, 2011.
Getty Images
Schalit was then flown to an air base in central Israel, where he was hugged by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's military chief, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, and reunited with his family. Video footage showed Schalit's father, Noam, hugging and kissing his son, before saying "come see your mother" and leading him away for a family reunion.

Speaking afterward, Netanyahu said he understood the pain of Israeli families who lost relatives in Palestinian violence, but that Israel's ethos of doing everything possible to bring its soldiers home safely forced him to act.

He also issued a staunch warning to the freed militants.

"We will continue to fight terror and every released terrorist who returns to terror will be held accountable," he said.

More than 450 Palestinians were transferred from Israeli prisons to the West Bank and Gaza, where massive celebratory rallies festooned with green Hamas flags were held. In Gaza City, tens of thousands crammed into an open lot where a huge stage was set up, decorated with a mural depicting Schalit's capture in a June 2006 raid on an army base near the Gaza border. The crowd exhorted militants to seize more soldiers for future swaps.

The rest of the prisoners -- about 550 more -- are to be released in a second phase in two months.

Comments

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.