From the darkness to a debrief: Shalit's first day of freedom
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt. As Political Editor and then Chief Political Commentator, he previously covered the John Major and early Tony Blair era. He has written for the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Times and Sunday Telegraph, and Sunday Correspondent. He is the author of Mandelson and the Making of New Labour (2000).
Thursday 20 October 2011
Gilad Shalit, freed in a prisoner exchange this week, is expected to be debriefed by intelligence officers soon about his long incarceration since being seized by Gaza militants more than five years ago.
Sgt Shalit, who was visited by Army medics and will undergo further tests over the coming days, took his first open air stroll yesterday, accompanied by his mother, wearing dark glasses. Israeli officials say he was kept away from sunlight throughout his captivity.
While an intelligence debriefing is unlikely to begin for at least several days, one official said yesterday that it could take place "in parallel" with his continuing rehabilitation. He noted that Sgt Shalit showed every sign of intellectual sharpness during his interview with Egyptian TV minutes after his release on Tuesday.
Although Sgt Shalit looked physically frail and gaunt after his release, needs treatment for untended shrapnel wounds sustained during his capture, and has reportedly had some initial difficulty climbing stairs, both the Israeli military and his father Noam have said his condition is generally good.
Israeli media quoted military sources as saying that when told on Tuesday that his condition was stable, Sgt Shalit joked: "I expected you to be surprised by my good condition." Noam Shalit said his son had told him that while his initial treatment by his captors had been poor, it had improved.
While the conscript, then a 19-year- old corporal, was seized on the Israeli side of the Gaza border in June 2006 in a joint operation – which killed two of his fellow tank crew members – for which two other militant groups also claimed responsibility, he was taken into the sole custody of Hamas.
Although Sgt Shalit is highly unlikely to have information which the Israeli intelligence services would regard as being of operational military significance, they may be interested in any light he can shed on how his captors managed not to throw up any leads on their whereabouts. Such information – including on how few Palestinians were allowed contact with him – could be useful to the Israeli military in the event that other soldiers are captured.
Shimshon Liebman, chairman of the campaign committee that had called for the release of Sgt Shalit over the past three years, said here yesterday: "I don't know if he has a lot to tell but they will ask him very gently, slowly, slowly."
While many of his fellow residents in the Western Galilee village of Mitzpe Hila have testified to his quiet, even shy personality, one good friend and contemporary Dor Peled, also 25, said this week that Sgt Shalit had inner strengths. "He has a rich world inside himself," he said. "He's a little stubborn."
Meanwhile a poll in the daily freesheet Israel Hayom said 29 percent of Israelis had improved their opinion of Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a result of the prisoner exchange compared 8.7 percent who said their opinion was more negative.
Meanwhile the 42 Palestinian prisoners regarded by Israel as being among the most dangerous yesterday arrived in the countries to which they are being deported. Sixteen went to Syria, 15 to Qatar, 10 to Turkey, and one to Jordan.
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