Israeli, French and local dignitaries joined members of the Jewish community in San Francisco today to celebrate the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was returned to Israel this morning after being held hostage by the Palestinian militant group Hamas for more than five years.

Shalit, an Israeli-French citizen who was captured on June 25, 2006, when he was 19, was returned in exchange for the release of 1,027 Palestinians, some of whom have spent years in Israeli jails.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who spoke briefly at this morning’s gathering at the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, said the development–despite its potential for adding to political turmoil in the Middle East–was “greatly worthy of celebration.”

In the hopes that Shalit would be released, Lee and the Board of Supervisors issued a proclamation in August declaring Shalit’s 25th birthday, Aug. 28, Gilad Shalit Day.

Corinne Pereira, Deputy Consul General of France, acknowledged the role that San Francisco has played as an international city in the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

“San Francisco has been on the side of those fighting for freedom and justice,” Pereira said.

Lee said of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, “We support every effort to find that peaceful way to (resolve) it.”

Israel’s Consul General Akiva Tor thanked Lee and the city for highlighting Shalit’s plight but noted that the prisoner exchange will “inevitably result in further bloodshed” in Israel.

Tor said the Jewish community’s happy reaction is appropriate, however, because it considers all Jews members of an extended family, and now the community as a whole will deal with any repercussions of the prisoner exchange, rather than the burden being all on Shalit and his family.

“Their pain comes into our private space. It can’t be kept out,” he said. “We bear the burden of the security of Israel as a society in its entirety.”

Marc Schickman, a member of the board of directors of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which co-sponsored this morning’s gathering, said that Shalit had been in the community’s prayers weekly since his capture.

“To be a Jew is to care about every member of our (extended) family around the world,” Schickman said.

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