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1,027 Palestinians for 1 Israeli soldier

world Updated: Oct 19, 2011 00:42 IST

Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and hundreds of Palestinians crossed Israel's borders in opposite directions on Tuesday as a thousand-for-one prisoner exchange brought joy to families but did little to ease decades of conflict.

In one of the biggest such exchanges between the two sides, Sergeant Shalit was flown to his parents' home in northern Israel after more than five years held incommunicado by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, while a first 477 of over 1,000 Palestinians in the deal left Israeli jails for Gaza, the West Bank and abroad.

Hundreds of flag-waving wellwishers lined the streets of Shalit's rural home town. Many danced as a ceremonial shofar horn was blown when he arrived at nightfall after a day that he began, as nearly 2,000 before, hidden away somewhere in Gaza.

In the Palestinian coastal enclave, Hamas's Islamist leaders claimed vindication for uncompromising hostility toward Israel that, on Tuesday at least, overshadowed the efforts of rivals led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

"I missed my family very much," a gaunt Shalit, his breathing laboured at times, said in an interview with Egyptian television as he was moved through Egypt from Gaza. "I hope this deal will promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians."

But there was no sign from Israel or Hamas, an Islamist group dedicated to its destruction, that the Egyptian-brokered deal could be a starting point for dialogue.

"The people want a new Gilad, the people want a new Gilad," tens of thousands of people chanted at a rally in Gaza for freed prisoners, urging that their fighters capture more soldiers to help free some of the 5,000 Palestinians still held by Israel.

Bitter taste for victims' families

Israelis whose daughters, sons, fathers and mothers were killed in Palestinian attacks are facing an ordeal of fresh grief that nothing can alleviate, not even the national celebration of a lost soldier's homecoming. For them it only reopens deep emotional wounds, stirring bitterness and anger.

"I am angry. It should not have ended this way," said Yitzhak Maoz, whose daughter was one of 15 Israelis killed in the Jerusalem pizzeria attack in 2001.