- Mar 22, 2007
The two Israeli soldiers abducted in 2006 by Hezbollah and whose bodies were returned Wednesday as part of a prisoner swap will receive military funerals Thursday in their respective hometowns.
Coffins containing the remains of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were delivered to an army base in northern Israel on Wednesday evening, where their families were waiting to hold a private ceremony.
The coffins, draped in Israeli flags, were driven a short distance from the Rosh Hanikra crossing on the Israel-Lebanon border to the Shraga army base. The two reservists were abducted by Hezbollah in July 2006 cross-border raid that sparked the month-long Second Lebanon War.
Within the framework of the exchange, Israel released five Lebanese prisoners, including Samir Kuntar, who has been imprisoned in Israel since 1979. He was convicted of one of the grisliest attacks in Israeli history - killing a man in front of his four-year-old daughter, and then killing the girl herself by crushing her skull. The girl's two-year-old sister was accidentally smothered by her mother, who kept her hand over the toddler's mouth to stifle her cries as they hid from Kuntar and his accomplices.
Kuntar and the four Hezbollah men received a hero's welcome in Lebanon on Wednesday evening. A short time earlier, the five were driven to the buffer zone between the warring nations, where they crossed by foot into Lebanon proper. They were welcomed at Beirut's Rafic Hariri International Airport by Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, President Michel Suleiman and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
In the two years and four days since the capture of the IDF reservists, Hezbollah had given no word on the condition of Goldwasser and Regev, nor did they allow Red Cross representatives to see them. The two bodies were formally identified by Israel a few hours after they were handed over, and the soldiers officially pronounced dead by the IDF chief rabbi and the head of the medical corps.
The army said that military funerals for the two would take place Thursday. Goldwasser will be laid to rest at 10 A.M. in the military cemetery in Nahariya and Regev will be buried at 2 P.M. in Haifa. By Jewish tradition, funerals are usually held the same day, but the burials were delayed in order to allow Israelis to pay their respects to the fallen soldiers.
The five Lebanese prisoners had been taken before dawn of Wednesday to the Liman military base near the border, where they waited until the identification process of the two Israelis had been completed. Israel also received the remains of IDF troops who fell in the 2006 war.
The swap, overwhelmingly approved Tuesday by the cabinet, began at around 9 A.M. Wednesday at the Rosh Hanikra crossing, under the auspices of the International Red Cross Committee.
A convoy carrying the bodies of the two soldiers reached the Rosh Hanikra crossing on the Lebanese side of the border at about 8:30 A.M., where they were transferred to Red Cross officials, beginning the first stage of the swap.
Hii ni kali kweli, yaani maiti ina thamani kuliko mtu hai!