A UK-based relative of freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has said she was "very proud" of him and that his family had not forgotten him "for one minute" during his ordeal.
Hemda Garelick, who lives in north London and campaigned in the UK to raise awareness of his plight, told Radio 5 Live he had been through a "terrible" time.
She attended a celebratory rally in Hendon, north London, on Tuesday after Sgt Shalit's release from captivity, which she said was "very touching".
Ms Garelick, who is his grandfather's cousin, said: "There were lots of downs in the last five years. We got to quite a desperate situation if you can imagine when you don't see someone for five years it becomes rather desperate.
"The thing is when somebody you love is in such a desperate situation, despair is not an option and you have to go on. So the family just had to go on and make sure that something happened. And lucky for us and for Gilad we were successful."
The pale and underweight soldier found that conditions improved slightly for him as time progressed.
"His dad said that the first years had been very difficult, we never spoke of the detail. Things improved a bit in the last two years," she told the broadcaster. "But it's been terrible on the whole."
She praised him for the strength of character he showed in his first interview with Egyptian television. The 25-year-old told reporters that despite all he has endured he hopes the deal to secure his release will promote peace between Israel and Palestine.
Ms Garelick said: "A young man who's been away for five and a half years, kept away from human beings, talked about peace, he didn't talk about himself, he showed what character he has, I was very proud of him."
She added: "We can tell him now he was never forgotten, not for one minute. There were always people who were thinking of him."