As it happened: Mid-East prisoner exchange

Key points

  • Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has returned home after five years' captivity in Gaza
  • Sgt Shalit told Egyptian TV he had always believed the day would come when he would be free
  • The first of more than 1,000 Palestinians to be freed in exchange have been released
  • More than 100,000 people packed Gaza's main square to welcome back some of the prisoners
  • Another 550 jailed Palestinians are to be freed next month under the Hamas-Israel deal
  • All times in GMT

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    Welcome to the BBC's live coverage of the prisoner exchange between Israel and the Palestinians. We will be bringing you the latest developments as captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is handed over in return for the release of a first batch of 477 Palestinian prisoners. All times in GMT.


    Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been handed over to the Egyptians, Reuters reports, quoting the Islamist Hamas movement which controls Gaza.

    Jon Donnison BBC News

    tweets: Arriving in Rafah. Now an armed masked Hamas militant every 5 metres either side of road. Hamas going for show of strength. #shalit


    The exchange process began early on Tuesday morning. A convoy carrying Palestinian prisoners left the Ketziot prison in southern Israel.


    The BBC's Richard Galpin, at the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Egypt, cautions that the report of Gilad Shalit's handover to the Egyptians comes from Palestinian sources only. There is no independent confirmation.


    This image shows the convoy leaving Ketziot prison. The vehicles are carrying some of the 477 Palestinian prisoners who will be released in return for Sgt Shalit.

    An Israeli policeman stands guard as a convoy carrying Palestinian prisoners leaves the Ketziot prison in southern Israel
    Cara Swift BBC News

    tweets: Female #Palestinian prisoners have already been transferred to the West Bank. #Shalit #Israel


    Israel Radio reports that Gilad Shalit is at the Kerem Shalom crossing, in Egyptian custody, despite Hamas denials of this fact. Sgt Shalit is out of Hamas captivity.


    Gilad Shalit's parents have left their home in Galilee, in northern Israel. They are travelling to an Israeli military airfield where they will be reunited with their son

    0555: Paul Danahar BBC Middle East bureau chief

    It's rare for both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories to be celebrating anything on the same day. But both sides feel like they have got something out of this prisoner swap. Gilad Shalit has been described as "Israel's son". Nearly every family send their children to do military service in Israel and so Shalit's capture resonated with every mother and father in the land. The prisoners being released into the West Bank and Gaza are seen by many there as heroes of the resistance to Israeli occupation. But when the celebrations are over, the problems will remain. In the zero-sum game of Palestinian politics, because the prisoner release strengthens Hamas, it weakens President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. He is the only one who can negotiate with Israel. This swap does not bring a peace deal closer

    0556: Breaking News

    A senior Hamas official has confirmed to the BBC that Gilad Shalit has been handed over to the Egyptians.

    Jeremy Bowen BBC News

    tweets: Crowd waiting for Palestinian prisoners at Beitunia crossing into Ramallah. Some excitement, even dancing #shalit #Palestine #Israel


    Israeli Radio says now that Sgt Shalit is in Egypt, Israel has begun releasing prisoners into the custody of the International Red Cross.


    Family members of Gilad Shalit left their house early on Tuesday to go to an army base where they are due to meet him for the first time in more than five years.

    Family members of captive soldier Gilad Shalit are seen, as they leave their house to go to an army base where they are supposed to meet their son
    Richard Colebourn BBC Middle East senior producer

    tweets: At Tal Hof air base in Israel. Tight security. Expect #Shalit to arrive soon by helicopter and to meet family for first time and Netanyahu

    0625: Richard Galpin BBC News

    at the Kerem Shalom crossing says the Israeli families of victims of Palestinian militant attacks are concerned about the possibility of further violence. Among the prisoners being released are people who have been convicted and given life sentences for their involvement in serious attacks on Israeli soil.


    Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev tells the BBC the negotiations for the prisoner exchange were very difficult but there are safeguards within the arrangement that contain the risks within such a release. Israel had no alternative but to deal with Hamas, he says - first through the Germans, then through the Egyptians. He thanks the Egyptians for their role.

    Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor

    at Beitunia, tweets: Ghazala aged 11 awaits mother, 10 years in jail for helping suicide bombers. Her father still inside #shalit #Palestine #Israel


    Hamas sources tell the BBC their their prime minister Ismail Haniya has arrived at the Rafah crossing point to greet returning prisoners. We're told the first people to greet them will be an honour guard of fighters from al-Qassam whose vehicles are already in place.

    Paul Danahar BBC Middle East bureau chief

    tweets: BBC sources: Israel will not be allowed to identify Shalit who is now in Egypt until 50% of prisoners have left Israel from Kerem Shalom


    Only Egyptian State TV is currently allowed inside the Rafah border crossing terminal, reports the BBC's Yolande Knell, who is at Rafah. Gilad Shalit is said to be in a VIP area.

    Paul Danahar BBC Middle East bureau chief

    tweets: BBC sources: Gilad Shalit in Egypt but Hamas guards still with him. When 100% prisoners left Israel then Hamas guards will withdraw

    Jon Donnison BBC News, Gaza

    tweets: BBC sources: huge Hamas militant present at Rafah border in case they need to pull Shalit back. Seems unlikely but situation still fragile.

    0650: Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor

    who is at the Beitunia crossing into the West Bank says there is high emotion and excitement as Palestinian families wait for the prisoner release. There are many Hamas flags, an unusual sight in the West Bank. There is music and dancing. One woman waiting for her brother who's served 25 years for killing an Israeli soldier says if all the soldiers are released, there will be peace. "We'll be too happy to fight," she says.

    Ariely, from Jerusalem

    emails: My mother was killed on a bus by Palestinian terrorists, while returning home from visiting her grandchildren. Some of them have been released in previous deals. Welcome home Shalit but I feel sorry for the ones seeing the murderers of their families escaping justice. We the Israelis are facing a terrible moral dilemma. On the one hand is our duty to save every captured Israeli, and on the other, to protect our civilians from terrorism.


    Israeli TV is reporting that Gilad Shalit is being transferred to Israeli custody at the Kerem Shalom crossing from Egypt into Israel. Channel 10 TV is quoting Israeli sources, while Channel 2 sources its report to Mahmoud Mahmoud Zahhar, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza.

    Abdullah Obeidat in Amman, Jordan

    emails: Some Palestinians were in Israeli prisons much longer than Shalit. I'm glad Shalit is out but more than happy as it is a triumph for Hamas over the Israeli goverment. 1000+ Palestinian prisoners for one Israeli prisoner is indeed an astounding victory.

    0701: Jon Donnison BBC News, Gaza

    reports sources say Gilad Shalit crossed into Egypt around 04:30 GMT, accompanied by four Hamas militants in a jeep. Unconfirmed claims say they raised a mask over Sgt Shalit's face to reveal him to Egyptian officials. He is in Egypt but is not officially in Egyptian hands.

    Paul Danahar BBC Middle East bureau chief

    BBC Sources: Israel's Shalit negotiator David Meisan will formally identify Gilad Shalit in Egypt. He is former senior Mossad man

    Yulia, from Tel Aviv

    emails: If we ask our soldiers to sacrifice their lives for us, we as a society have to be prepared to make sacrifices for them, even if it means putting in danger our security and hurting our national pride.


    Speaking to The World Today on the BBC World Service, Palestinian MP Mustafa Barghouti said it was a great day for all of the people receiving their relatives, the 1,027 Palestinians as well as the Shalit family.


    The BBC's Richard Galpin at Kerem Shalom says the Shalit family's campaign was instrumental in keeping the young soldier's plight in the public eye. They marched the length of Israel and camped in a tent in Jerusalem for 15 months, pressing the Israeli government to secure his release.


    BBC Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly looks at the background to the deal that will see one captive Israeli soldier exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.


    Turkey is to take in some of the Palestinians freed in a swap deal with Israel, the Associated Press reports, quoting a foreign ministry official. The official would not say how many former prisoners Turkey was taking, nor when they would arrive. However, the private NTV channel says 10 Palestinians are expected in Istanbul.

    Paul Danahar BBC Middle East bureau chief

    tweets: BBC sources: The 40 deported Pal' prisoners will meet Hamas leader Khalid Mashall in Cairo tonight. Then 15-Qatar, 15-Syria, 10-Turkey


    The Israeli Defence Forces website says areas around Ketziot prison and the crossings at Kerem Shalon, Nitzana and Erez have been declared closed military zones. The order bars the entry to anyone who is not a resident of the areas or a member of the security forces required to enter the area for their work.

    Richard Galpin BBC News, Kerem Shalom

    tweets: Israeli military near Kerem shalom border crossing says Palestinian prisoners already on Red Cross Buses ready to be transported into Egypt


    Jerusalem Post columnist Gil Hoffman tells the BBC that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin has been politically strengthened by the prisoner exchange deal. He is doing this because he thinks it is right, the columnist says, and because he thinks the Arab Spring will make such a deal harder in the future.

    Emma, in Tel Aviv

    emails: Although this is a joyous occasion for one family, and many feel this is the first step to peace, there are people out here who are distraught at who was freed and for them, the murderers of their parents, their children, their friends go free. There is also a dark cloud hanging over the people who fear that this is the start of a new Hamas regime - kidnap to get what you want. And what of the prisoners left behind, the ones not being freed - do you think they continue to sit quietly in jail? The feeling is they will not.

    0739: Breaking News

    The prisoner exchange appears to have hit a snag. The Haaretz newspaper, Ynet website and al-Arabiya TV are reporting that two Palestinian prisoners are refusing to be deported to Gaza, thus holding up the swap.


    David Makovsky, analyst at the Washington Institute, tells the BBC World Service that people watching this from inside Israel "look at this as 'this could have been my son'. But... many people on the outside wonder if the nature of this is to incentivise Hamas to kidnap more soldiers. This is one of those issues where there's a really clear divide between the people looking at this from the outside in, and those who are looking at it from the inside out."

    Jon Donnison BBC News, Rafah

    tweets: Still load of heavily armed Hamas miliants around Rafah. Might need tin hat and ear plugs if celebratory gunfire starts as traditional.


    Those two female Palestinian prisoners who were refusing to be deported to Gaza have now relented, Haaretz and Ynet are now reporting. The two are now on their way to Gaza.

    Cara Swift BBC News, Bituniya

    tweets: Crowds are being asked to move aside to make room for anticipated buses of #Palestinian freed prisoners here. But no-one is moving. Still singing and chanting. #shalit


    Egypt's government is stepping up security at Cairo airport as it prepares for the deportations of 40 Palestinians, Reuters reports. The former prisoners will be flown to Syria, Turkey and Qatar.


    The Israel Defence Forces confirm the problem with the female prisoner refusing to enter Gaza has been resolved, says the BBC's Avi Halfon in Jerusalem.


    The Turkish Foreign Ministry says some of the 40 high-risk prisoners will come to Turkey, but the number and names are still to be decided when they get to Cairo Airport, reports the BBC's Jonathan Head in Istanbul.


    One of the Palestinian prisoners awaiting her freedom is Ahlam Tamimi, who was found guilty of involvement in a bomb attack on a Jerusalem pizzeria in 2001 in which 15 people were killed. Among the victims was 15-year-old Malka, the daughter of Frimet Roth. She told the BBC World Service that she was staunchly opposed to the swap. "I am devastated by the ramifications of this. I am having a very hard time coping right now." Mrs Roth said that when Ahlam Tamimi was interviewed whilst in prison, she stated clearly that she was not sorry and had no regrets for what she did. "When she was asked if she'd do it again, she said she would."


    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tweeted: Arrived at Tel Nof IAF base. Met the #Shalit family and told the parents "I'm glad we've reached this day. You will soon get Gilad back."


    The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesperson's office has told the Chinese news agency Xinhua that, contrary to earlier reports, Gilad Shalit has not arrived in Israel. The IDF previously said that Shalit had finished initial processing stage at an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) base near the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

    0821: Breaking News

    Israeli Defence Forces confirm they have identified Galid Shalit as alive and well on the Gaza border.


    At 08:05 GMT, Egyptian state-run Nile News TV carried the following "urgent" news caption: "The buses carrying Palestinian prisoners are getting ready to go through Rafah crossing and into Gaza."


    A statement from the IDF says: "Moments ago, SFC [Sergeant First Class] Gilad Shalit was brought into Egyptian territory and transferred from the hands of the Hamas into the care of representatives of the Egyptian Government, and is currently at the Rafah crossing. He will then meet IDF representatives who will escort him to the Kerem Shalom crossing, through which he will return to Israel... The process of transferring the Palestinian prisoners to their prearranged release locations began moments ago."

    0831: Breaking News
    Gilad Shalit (18 October 2011)

    The BBC has just received the first TV images of Gilad Shalit.


    Egyptian Nile News TV has just confirmed that Shalit is currently giving an interview to a Nile News TV presenter. The channel is likely to record the interview; it will be broadcast later on various Egyptian state TV channels. The interview is being conducted in English.

    Ruth, in Jerusalem

    emails: I live down the road from where the Shalit protest tent is, and for the last year each day I have walked past and seen the sad, withdrawn eyes of Noam Shalit. It may be difficult for the world to understand why we can exchange one Jewish life for over 1,000 terrorists. There are two important principles behind this. Firstly, it's not that Gilad could have been our son. It is that he is our son, or brother. The Jewish people are one family. Secondly, save a life and you save the whole world. The deal is dangerous, disproportionate and probably a mistake, yet it is understandable. You take risks to save your family.


    Palestinian Iman Nafar, herself a prisoner in Israel for 10 years, tells the BBC World Service: "People are really celebrating now. There are a lot of songs and everybody is happy. People have been waiting here since 06:00 in the morning\u2026 there are old women in wheelchairs waiting for their sons. I wish the whole world could see this, there is happiness in all their faces."


    Israeli TV report that Gilad Shalit has arrived in Israel. There is no independent confirmation yet.


    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is at the Tel Nof military base, where he has met Gilad Shalit's parents. The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, at Tel Nof, says the Israeli government is doing a delicate balancing act. He says 80% support the prisoner exchange deal, but a minority are opposed, particularly the families of victims of Palestinian violence.


    The IDF has just tweeted: Gilad Shalit will meet #IDF reps who will take him to Kerem Shalom crossing, where they will cross into #Israel. #giladshalit

    Jon Donnison BBC News, Rafah

    tweets: Pal prisoners families at rafah chanting "we want a new Shalit"


    In the video shown on Egyptian TV, the man seen leading Gilad Shalit is the head of Hamas' military wing, Ahmed Jabari, according to the Israeli Ynet website.


    Egyptian TV is showing pictures of what it says is the convoy of Palestinian prisoners which has arrived in Egypt, on its way to Rafah on the border with Gaza.


    Israeli Labour MP Isaac Herzog tells the BBC World Service: "I would say that the heart of Israel lost a beat a few minutes ago when they saw the first pictures of Gilad Shalit in Egyptian hands. The next moment will be when he calls his mum, when he crosses the border, and the next moment will be when he sees the Prime Minister and the defence minister\u2026. It's all very emotional and very strong - it runs in the national psyche for the last few years."

    0854: Breaking News

    The BBC has confirmed that Gilad Shalit is now on Israeli territory.


    Gilad Shalit is now at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, the BBC has confirmed.


    The Palestinian prisoners' bus is about to enter Egypt, reports the BBC's Avi Halfon.


    Israel says Gilad Shalit is in good health.


    Hamas sources tell the BBC that the first released Palestinians are on their way into Gaza through Rafah crossing. There is no exact time of arrival, says the BBC's Kevin Connolly at Rafah.

    Amanda, in Israel

    emails: I think it's time to put the past behind us. This poor soldier will carry enough guilt that his life was bargained for by the blood of his own people. He also probably has enough resentment and mixed feelings for Israel, since it took them so long to get him. No one should blame him. I hope some day this all stops.


    Watch the first footage of freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit here. The pictures were first aired on Egyptian TV.


    The first coach carrying Palestinian prisoners has already crossed onto Egyptian territory, says BBC Arabic correspondent, Ahmed Elbudery. Egyptian TV boarded the coach to interview some of the prisoners who have been released.

    0910: Shuhdi ElKasif BBC Arabic

    reports from Gaza that celebrations have started at the Rafah crossing.


    How does one cope with returning to normal life after a period of captivity? American journalist Charles Glass, held hostage in Lebanon for 62 days in 1987, told the BBC World Service that he was able to adapt to normal life very quickly. "I gave a press conference with lots of flashing lights and that can be a bit startling - in a way it's total immersion - and probably a good way to get back to normal life."


    Gilad Shalit's interview with Egyptian TV is now airing on BBC World News. In it, he says: "Obviously I miss my family a lot and also I miss my friends... I think the Egyptians succeeded through their good relations with Hamas and also with the Israeli side."


    In his interview with Egyptian TV, Gilad Shalit said he received the news of his release a week ago. He also said he felt this could be the last chance to free him.


    Gilad Shalit on Egyptian TV: "I miss meeting normal people to talk to them to tell them about my experience... I have a lot to do when I'm free."


    "I hope this deal will help the conclusion of a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians," Gilad Shalit tells Egyptian TV. "I hope co-operation and links between the two sides will be consolidated."


    The first Palestinian prisoners have arrived back in Gaza, says the BBC's Jon Donnison at Rafah.

    0920: Yolande Knell BBC News, Rafah

    reports: We can see the tops of Palestinian prisoner buses arriving inside the Rafah terminal from Kerem Shalom. Their route was changed from earlier plans. Families from the West Bank and Gaza who are here are chanting and cheering.


    Gilad Shalit tells Egyptian TV he would be "very happy" if thousands of Palestinian prisoners still held by Israel could be freed and return home.

    Ori Pomson, Jerusalem

    emails: I believe there's not a single Israeli who hasn't felt some kind of joyous emotion after the first pictures of Gilad appeared on television. However, to see pictures of murderers and their families celebrating their release is truly sickening. Uncertain times lie ahead for Israelis but at least for today we may rejoice at the news that for the first time an Israeli soldier has returned home from captivity in over 20 years.

    Faysal Mikdadi, Dorchester, UK

    emails: As a Palestinian, I am saddened that there is a perception that one Israeli prisoner is worth 1,000 Palestinians. This is a typical construct manufactured by Israel. Witness the deportation of Palestinians to Turkey, Syria and other countries. Why shouldn't they go home to Palestine as they are entitled to do under all legal and international norms? Enough is enough.

    Paul Danahar BBC Middle East bureau chief

    tweets: around 180 Palestinian prisoners now back in Gaza and about to meet their families


    Israel Defence Forces confirm Gilad Shalit has spoken to his family for first time in five years.


    The journalist who interviewed Gilad Shalit for Egypt's Nile TV is Shahira Amin, who quit her job in disgust during the uprising which ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February.

    0928: Yolande Knell BBC News, Rafah

    reports: A packed coach has just sped out of Rafah with those on board waving from the windows. These are the deportees who will be taken to Cairo airport to meet Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal. They'll go to Turkey, Qatar and Syria. Extra security at the airport.


    A BBC Arabic correspondent at the Rafah Crossing, Arwa Assem, says she has seen 10 coaches, but only one has so far passed over to the Egyptian side. It is carrying 40 prisoners under heavy security.

    0937: BBC Arabic reporter Eman Erikat

    reports from Ramallah: Palestinian prisoners' minister has confirmed that prisoners will not be handed over via Beitunia check point as previously agreed. This will happen at another location that has not yet been disclosed.

    Palestinian prisoners arriving at Rafah (18 October 2011)

    The first coachload of Palestinian prisoners have been greeted with celebrations as they arrive at the Rafah crossing.

    0941: BBC Arabic reporter Eman Erikat

    reports from Ramallah: People are angry because the handover of Palestinian prisoners will not take place via Beitunia. They are throwing stones at Israeli soldiers on the checkpoint and the soldiers are throwing tear gas bombs in return.

    0942: Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor

    tweets: Beitunia on West Bank crowds now dispersing as told prisoners arriving elsewhere. Clashes and tear gas from Israelis as they leave

    0946: Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor

    at Beitunia in the West Bank: A few stones have been thrown over the wire at Israeli troops as people await prisoners. There have been attempts by older Palestinians to restrain boys who've crossed the wire with a flag.


    Ramallah Palestine Satellite Channel TV reports that three airplanes from Syria, Turkey and Qatar have landed at Cairo International Airport to transfer prisoners that were freed as part of the Shalit deal, BBC Monitoring reports. Ten prisoners will be deported to Syria, 15 to Turkey, and another 15 to Qatar, the station says.


    BBC Arabic correspondent Sherin Yunis at the Karm Abu Salem crossing says five released Palestinian prisoners have arrived back in their hometowns in Israel.


    Here we have an excerpt from the Egyptian TV interview with Gilad Shalit on hopes for Mid-East peace.


    The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have just released this statement: "Minutes ago, Sergeant First Class Gilad Shalit concluded the initial processing stage at an IDF base near Kerem Shalom. SFC Shalit is on his way to an IDF base, where he will be greeted by the Prime Minister, Minister of Defense and the IDF Chief of the General Staff, and be reunited with his family."


    More from the IDF statement: "SFC Shalit was transferred to the care of representatives of the IDF Personnel Directorate and has undergone an initial medical examination by Medical Corps personnel, who confirmed that he is in good and stable health. SFC Shalit then spoke to his family over the phone."


    UK Prime Minister David Cameron has released this statement: "I know that people across Britain will share in the joy and relief felt by Gilad Shalit and his family today. I can only imagine the heartache of the last five years, and I am full of admiration for the courage and fortitude which Sergeant Shalit and his family have shown through his long cruel and unjustified captivity. I congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu and everyone involved for bringing him home safely, and hope this prisoner exchange will bring peace a step closer."


    More from the David Cameron statement: "Britain will continue to stand by Israel in defeating terrorism. We remain strongly committed to the cause of peace in the Middle East - with Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in security. We will continue to work for direct negotiations to achieve that end."


    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has begun addressing a huge crowd in Ramallah about the released prisoners: "Your sacrifice and your efforts and your work have not been in vain."


    More from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah: "Your efforts have not been in vain; you have sacrificed, fought and paid the price. You will see the results of your struggle by the inception of a free and independent Palestinian state whose capital is Jerusalem."

    1013: Nabeel, in Gaza

    emails: I'm deeply happy about the release of the prisoners, but at the same time I'm deeply saddened for the 5,500 prisoners who must remain in Israeli prisons. I also have reservations about the swap deal, as I think it serves the Israelis better. This offer was presented to Hamas for years and it was rejected by Hamas. Why has Hamas now agreed to this disgraceful offer, which has disappointed Palestinians?


    Hamas says some 200,000 people are in Gaza City awaiting the released prisoners, the AFP news agency reports.


    The Israel Defense Forces have released a picture of Gilad Shalit on the phone with his parents, after arriving in Israel.

    Gilad Shalit on the phone with his parents, after arriving Israel
    1019: Richard Galpin BBC News, Kerem Shalom

    An Israeli helicopter believed to have Gilad Shalit on board has left the Kerem Shalom border crossing to take him to the Tel Nof military airbase to be reunited with his parents.


    In Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he hopes soon to see the release of prominent prisoners including Marwan Barghouti, Arwan Sadaat and Ibrahim Hamid.


    Mr Abbas also says: "Future negotiations will be based on the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. There should be a complete halt to the settlement policy. And the issue of prisoners should be at the top of priorities."


    The Israel Defense Forces have confirmed Gilad Shalit is on his way to Tel Nof airbase in a helicopter.

    1027: Cara Swift BBC News, Bituniya

    The Israelis use tear gas and water to disperse the crowds after stones were thrown towards them across the border fence. The prisoners didn't cross there after relatives had been waiting for hours.


    Abdul Rahman in Gaza on says: "This deal has helped Hamas regain some of its diminishing popularity. Israel has also emerged a winner. The only loser is Mahmoud Abbas who's clearly not a representative of the Palestinian people."


    After President Abbas, Hassan Yusef, a prominent Hamas leader, also addressed the crowds in Ramallah and thanked all countries that contributed to conclude the swap deal.

    1036: Dr Moataz Attallah in the UK

    emails: As an Egyptian living in the UK, I am really glad that Egypt is back to playing its vital diplomatic role in the Middle East after the revolution, by mediating between Israel and the Palestinians. The new post-revolution Egypt needs international support, as no peace agreement in the Middle East can be reached without Egypt.


    Hanan al-Barghouti is the sister of Nail and Fakhri al-Barghouti - two of the prisoners with the longest prison sentences. Nail al-Barghouti is being released today. As she waited at the Bitunya checkpoint for her brother's release, she told BBC Arabic: "It is an indescribable happiness... I have been crying for 32 years. Today for the first time I am shedding tears of joy. I am going to hug Nail. A thousand thank yous [to]the resistance."


    Palestinian prisoners have begun arriving in Gaza following their release as part of the prisoner exchange. We have an interview with one of the prisoners: Palestinian's sorrow despite release


    Sixteen Palestinian prisoners are expected to arrive in Damascus, Syria, at 20:30 (17:30 GMT) today, BBC Arabic in Damascus reports. Representatives of Palestinian factions and Syrian officials will welcome them at the airport.


    And Turkey has said it will welcome 10 Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails on Tuesday evening, BBC Arabic reports. This is being done on a humanitarian basis, a foreign ministry spokesman says, adding Turkey has had direct and indirect roles in the past in the Shalit case and the Palestinian prisoners swap.


    We now have this picture, released by the Israel Defense Forces, of Gilad Shalit in an Israeli army uniform:

    Gilad Shalit in Israeli uniform

    Cairo airport is getting ready to welcome 40 Palestinian prisoners who are on their way to Turkey, Syria and Qatar, says BBC Arabic Cairo reporter Azza Moheddine.


    The Israeli Prime Minister's office says Gilad Shalit has been reunited with his parents at the Tel Nof airbase.


    At the meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Gilad Shalit with these words: "Shalom Gilad. Welcome back to Israel. How good to have you back home."

    1112: Cara Swift BBC News, Bituniya

    Freed #Palestinian prisoners are being carried on the shoulders of friends and families through the streets of Ramallah. #shalit #israel

    1113: Cara Swift BBC News, Bituniya

    In the West Bank, lots of emotional mothers clinging onto their sons, just released from #Israeli jails. #Palestine #shalit


    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been making a statement on the prisoners' release at the Tel Nof airbase in Israel: "It involved a very difficult decision. Before my eyes was the need to return home the one who was sent to the battlefield by the state of Israel."


    Mr Netanyahu adds: "I am aware of the full meaning of making these decisions and in these moments, a leader stands alone and he has to make a decision. I weighed and I decided. The ministers supported this decision, and today, now, Gilad has returned home to his family, to his people, to his state."


    More from Mr Netanyahu: "A short while ago, I hugged him when he came down from the helicopter and I took him to his parents and I told them, 'I return your son home to you'."


    We have the first picture of Noam Shalit hugging his son, Gilad, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on.

    Noam Shalit hugging son, Gilad, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on
    1142: Yolande Knell BBC News, Rafah

    There's a lot of frustration here among Palestinians who made the arduous journey from the West Bank and Jerusalem to join the celebrations in Gaza, but cannot enter. Most have relatives who were freed from prison, but cannot return home under the terms of the exchange deal. Some have been here all night and are standing in their best clothes in the intense heat. Egyptian soldiers say they may be allowed to enter the crossing in an hour.


    Here are some of the Palestinian prisoners entering Gaza via the Rafah crossing from Egypt. Their sign reads: "A salute to the Arab Spring uprisings, [signed by] the Palestinian prisoners."

    Palestinian prisoners return to Gaza

    Israeli President Shimon Peres has thanked the German talks mediator for aiding the prisoner swap deal, according to Haaretz newspaper, BBC Monitoring reports.

    1153: Cara Swift BBC News, West Bank

    A freed Palestinian prisoner told us that this swap proves "the only way to deal with Israel is through force".


    We have more images from the day's events in the Middle East in this picture gallery.

    1159: Al-Jazeera's Dima Khatib

    tweets: 40 of the released Palestinian prisoners will be deported to Syria, Turkey, Qatar while #GiladShalit goes home!!


    We have footage of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's address in Ramallah, who told the released prisoners their struggle would pay off.

    1210: Paul Danahar BBC Middle East bureau chief

    All prisoners involved in today's swap have now been exchanged.


    Terry Waite was taken hostage in Beirut in 1987 and remained in captivity for nearly five years. He told the BBC World Service he remembers that "it took me quite a while to begin to adjust to normal life".


    Mr Waite described the initial attention he received as "a bit overwhelming" and says he felt lucky to be able to withdraw from the limelight for a while: "Whilst I wouldn't necessarily say a year is necessary in every case, I would say that a period of time away from the glare of publicity and coming to grips with the new reality... that's a wise thing to do," he told Newshour.


    Shahira Amin, the Eyptian TV presenter who did the first interview with Gilad Shalit, said on the BBC World Service's World Have Your Say: "I asked to do the interview with my programme and the minister said it would be arranged. I met with intelligence officials yesterday and they said it would happen but didn't know if [the interview] would go ahead until the last minute. I wasn't aware anyone had actually forced Shalit into doing this."


    French President Nicolas Sarkozy has welcomed the release of Gilad Shalit, who has dual Israeli and French nationality, as "a huge relief for France". Mr Sarkozy said Mr Shalit would "soon" travel to France.


    In the wake of today's prisoner release, Unicef is now appealing for the release of all 164 Palestinian child detainees, most of them held on charges of stone throwing. It was not clear whether the list of the 1,027 Palestinian prisoners who are to be released in two stages includes children, Unicef said in a statement.


    We have footage of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making a statement on the Gilad Shalit release.


    Amjad Shawa from Gaza City says residents are celebrating in the streets: "We hope the Gilad Shalit case will lead to more releases. The plight of Gilad Shalit has struck a cord with many Palestinians. We can all understand the trauma his family must have endured for the last five years since thousands of our own men have been incarcerated, kept in solitary confinement and brutalised in bleak, concrete Israeli prisons."


    More from Amjad Shawa, who was speaking to the BBC: "In tiny cells our men are kept from seeing their families, their wives, mothers and children, sometimes for more than a year. In stark contrast to Gilad Shalit's experience, our political prisoners have little hope of having their stories highlighted by the world's media."


    Middle East Quartet envoy and former UK prime minister Tony Blair has been speaking about the prisoners' exchange: "I hope it also offers us a moment of opportunity, not simply in respect of Gaza, where Hamas are presently in charge, but also for a regaining and revival of credibility in a peace process we really need to prioritise," he told the BBC.


    Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian representative to the UK, told BBC World Service when asked how the Palestinian authorites would ensure that the released Palestinian prisoners did not turn back to the kind of crimes they had committed: "They have to go through social rehabilitation; some of them have paid 20, 30 years of their times, they want to rejoin their families, they want to lead a normal life."


    More from Manuel Hassassian: "Nobody wants to resort to violence, but we have to bear in mind that as Gaza is under siege, the occupation is there, the annexation of land, building settlements\u2026 Israel is not making things easier. As long as there is occupation, they have to expect resistance."


    Timing is key to the prisoner release deal, as the BBC's Middle East bureau editor Paul Danahar explains here.

    1315: Laura Farhi, Tel Aviv

    emails: As a mother of five, with two sons presently serving in the army, I rejoice with the Shalit family on the return of their son Gilad. And as a mother, I share the pain of my son-in-law and his family. His little brother Yuval was 13 when he was killed by a suicide bomber on the number 37 bus in Haifa on his way home from school. Four of the perpetrators of this murder were released today, hailed as heroes.

    1317: Cara Swift BBC News, West Bank

    says: "A freed Palestinian prisoner told us that this swap proves 'the only way to deal with Israel is through force'."


    Hadeel Al-Shalchi, Associated Press Middle East correspondent, tweets: Israeli official told @AP: "We are all shocked that a so-called interview was forced on (#Shalit)."


    More reaction to Gilad Shalit's interview with Egyptian TV. AFP correspondent Sara Hussein tweets: #Egypt anchor Shahira Amin roasted by #Israel anchors interviewing her over #Shalit interview. She defended it, said there was no duress


    Israeli military officials say Gilad Shalit shows signs of malnutrition and lack of exposure to the sun after five years in Hamas captivity, the Associated Press reports.


    The IDF says Gilad Shalit has completed his medical examinations and will fly home to Mitzpe Hila with his family in approximately 20 minutes.


    A letter, a video, an audio recording: several messages from Gilad Shalit were distributed by his captors during the five years he was held. Here is a look back at what the world learned about him during that time.


    The Israeli Ynet website quotes Gilad Shalit's grandfather Tzvi Shalit as saying: "He is in a better condition than we feared... Gilad spoke very quietly and said that he is very tired and wants to sleep."

    1406: Jon Donnison BBC News, Gaza

    tweets: Tens of thousands in katiba square in gaza city for mass Hamas rally.

    1410: The office of the Israeli Prime Minister

    tweets: Gilad Shalit's helicopter has just taken off to his home in Mitzpe Hilla. #shalit


    Some of the most prominent Palestinian prisoners remain in Israeli jails, including Marwan Barghouti. His wife Fadwa Barghouti told BBC Arabic: "The heroes have been released and left other heroes behind them... We say despite the pain and the deep wound this deal has left us with, at the same time we say we are delighted and it is the destiny of the Palestinian people to be happy and sad at the same time."


    Now that Gilad Shalit has been released, many believe Hamas has now played its trump card, writes the BBC's Jon Donnison, in Rafah. So what will its strategy be now?


    US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has welcomed Sgt Shalit's release, saying he was held for "far too long". Speaking on a visit to the Libyan capital Tripoli, Mrs Clinton said "We are pleased that a long ordeal... has ended for Gilad Shalit."

    1434: Daniel Levy

    from the New America Foundation writes on the blog of Foreign Policy magazine: "By the time [Prime Minister Netanyahu] made his decision [to go ahead with the prisoner exchange], the public was ready. Sure, that is part of democracy and perhaps a function of time, but it also suggests a real leadership vacuum. One is left with the feeling that the family did the heavy lifting in every sense." You can read his analysis of the implications of the deal here.

    1437: The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

    has tweeted: Breaking: Gilad #Shalit joined the helicopter pilot in the cockpit and started identiying towns on the route to Mitzpe Hilla.


    The helicopter carrying Gilad Shalit and his family is now close to Mitzpe Hila in the western Galilee, where hundreds of people have turned out to welcome him home.


    That helicopter carrying Sgt Shalit and his family has now touched down in Mitzpe Hila.

    1458: Jon Donnison BBC News, Gaza

    tweets: Now over 100,000 in Katiba Square Gaza City for Hamas prisoner rally.

    1502: Laura Farhi, Tel Aviv

    emails: As a mother of five, with two sons presently serving in the army, I rejoice with the Shalit family on the return of their son Gilad. And as a mother, I share the pain of my son-in-law and his family. His little brother Yuval was 13 when he was killed by a suicide bomber on the number 37 bus in Haifa on his way home from school. Four of the perpetrators of this murder were released today, hailed as heroes.


    Jubilant crowds waving Israeli flags greet Gilad Shalit as he arrives at his home in Mitzpe Hila.

    1512: Jon Donnison BBC News, Gaza

    I am at the Hamas mass rally here with over 100,000 people packed into Katiba Square, waving the Hamas green Palestinian flag, and on the stage behind them are some of the Palestinian prisoners who are being given a huge welcoming rally. Hamas militants lined the roads as the prisoners travelled to the rally. Hamas are maknig a good show of this.

    1520: Jon Donnison BBC News, Gaza

    This release is a victory for Hamas, but they needed to get this victory because they're in a weak position. They're losing popularity in the wake of President Abbas's approach to the UN to try and get UN membership; that was popular with many Palestinians, but Hamas was against it.


    More from Jon Donnison: Hamas has also reportedly got money problems; they've been raising taxes here on things like fuel and cigarettes, and people don't like that in Gaza. So I think they did this deal because they were weak. They'll get a short-term boost, but they've played their big card now. Where do they go from here?


    That brings to an end our live coverage of the prisoners' release in the Middle East. Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held captive by Hamas for more than five years, has flown back to his hometown in Israel. In exchange for his release, almost 500 Palestinian prisoners were freed and have been welcomed home in Gaza and the West Bank.


Gilad Shalit release

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