Soldiers come home on a day of public mourning

IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were laid to rest yesterday (Thursday), two years and four days after the Hizbollah attack on their patrol which triggered the Second Lebanon War.

The day before, their bodies had been returned from Lebanon, as part of a prisoner-exchange deal, brokered by the German government and authorised finally by the Israeli cabinet on Tuesday. Hizbollah, which had refused to disclose the fate of the two Israeli soldiers until Wednesday morning, received in return 199 bodies of Lebanese and Palestinians fighters, four of its militants captured during the war and Samir Kuntar, leader of a team of terrorists who carried out an attack on Nahariya in 1979 which resulted in the deaths of five Israelis. Kuntar shot Danny Haran in front of his four-year-old daughter Einat and then smashed her skull with his rifle butt. Her two-year-old sister Yael was accidentally smothered to death by her mother as they hid.

Kuntar received a hero’s welcome at a Hizbollah rally in Beirut, including a rare public appearance of its leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

Despite the fact that the Israeli government had information that the two soldiers were dead, their families continued to hope until the coffins were brought to the border.

The cabinet voted overwhelmingly in favour of the deal, despite intelligence warnings that by exchanging live prisoners for bodies, Israel would only be emboldening Hamas to make higher demands for the return of Gilad Shalit, held in the Gaza Strip for over two years.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that “due to our moral strength, we decided to return the sons even in return for the heavy price of releasing a despicable murderer”.

President Shimon Peres lit two candles in memory of the soldiers and asked: “Where is the ultimate moral victory and where is the human failure? At the reception for a lowly murderer, or with the neshama candles in memory of our loved ones?”

    Last updated: 4:21pm, July 6 2010