CAIRO (Reuters) - Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, looking weak and pale but insisting he was in good health, said he hoped his release on Tuesday in exchange for a thousand Palestinians held in Israeli prisons could help bring peace between the two peoples.
In an interview conducted by Egyptian television shortly after he was handed over by Hamas in the Gaza Strip to Egyptian intelligence officers, Shalit looked tired and somewhat dazed, hesitating and sometimes appearing out of breath.
Thanking the many people who had worked for his release, he said he had been told of his impending freedom after five years incommunicado at about the same time as news of the deal was publicized: "I received this news a week ago and I felt then that this would be my last chance to be free," he said.
"They were long years," Shalit said. "But I always thought the day would come when I finally get out of captivity."
Captured in June 2006 by Palestinian militants who tunneled out of the Gaza Strip to attack Shalit's tank crew on the border, the Israeli conscript was last seen in a 2009 video shot by his captors.
Wearing a checked blue shirt, the 25-year-old looked gaunt and pale as he fielded questions and said he was looking forward to "meeting ordinary people" again.
Speaking in Hebrew through a translator, he was asked what he thought of the 5,000 or so Palestinians still in jail in Israel and said he would be happy if those prisoners were freed to return home to their families.
"Of course I miss my family very much. I also miss my friends," he said. "I hope this deal will lead to peace between Palestinians and Israelis and that it will support cooperation between both sides."
When an interpreter asked the Egyptian reporter to wrap up her questions, Shalit stood up and the interview ended.
Hundreds of Palestinians are being freed in exchange for Shalit under the deal between Gaza's Hamas Islamist rulers and the Israeli government that was brokered by Egypt.
(Reporting by Tamim Elyan and Marwa Awad; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)