Israli soldier Gilad Shilat was released Tuesday after more than five years in captivity, in exchange for the freedom of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Shilat had been held by Palestinian group Hamas after being captured during a cross-border raid in 2006. The 25-year-old soldier met with Israel Prime Minister Ben Netanyahu and his family.
“Today we are all united in joy and in pain,” Netanyahu said in a speech.
By bus, 477 Palestinian prisoners crossed into Gaza where they were released. About 550 other prisoners are scheduled to be freed in the coming months.
There has been debate over whether Hamas will gain more political traction after this deal is complete, especially considering that this is the largest number of prisoners Israel has ever exchanged.
“I know that the price is very heavy for you,” Netanyahu wrote in a statement. “I understand the difficulty to countenance that the evil people who perpetrated the appalling crimes against your loved ones will not pay the full price that they deserve. During these moments I hope that you will find solace that I and the entire nation of Israel embrace you and share your pain.”
Others supporting Hamas believed the group could have bargained for a better deal.
“The initial glow has died down,” Muhannad Abdul Hamid, a Palestinian political analyst and newspaper columnist, told the Los Angeles Times. “People thought Hamas broke through all of Israel’s red lines, but now there is some disappointment.”
Some of the Palestinian prisoners released will be deported back to Israel, where they face arrest again if they are suspected of criminal activity.