VIDEO - Abduction affair which ignited Second Lebanon War
comes to its tragic end: The bodies of Israel Defense Forces soldiers Staff Sergeant Eldad Regev and Sergeant Major Ehud Goldwasser
were handed over to the Red Cross on the Lebanese side of the border Wednesday morning, more than two years after they were kidnapped into Lebanon
on July 12, 2006.
Upon the caskets' arrival in Israel, they underwent an identification process, which was completed Wednesday afternoon. Major-General Elazar Stern, head of the IDF Personnel Directorate, and Central Command Chief Gadi Shamni arrived at the families' homes to officially inform them of their sons' tragic fate. Simultaneously, trucks began transferring terrorists' bodies to Lebanon.
Ehud Goldwasser will be buried in the Nahariya Military Cemetery on Thursday, at 10 am. Eldad Regev will be buried in the Haifa Military Cemetery on Thursday, at 2 pm. Goldwasser was posthumously promoted to sergeant major and Regev was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant first class.
|Video courtesy of Channel 1|
IDF Spokesman Brigadier-General Avi Benayahu held a improvised press conference at the Rosh Hanikra crossing, and said, "We have completed the identification process of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. The decision to declare them dead was made by medical sources and by Jewish law. The IDF bows its head and its flags."
Earlier Wednesday, Hizbullah's al-Manar network broadcast live images from the Lebanese side of the border, showing two coffins taken off a truck at the Naqoura crossing, north of Rosh Hanikra.
Cries of horror sounded at the Regev residence, as the family witnessed the TV broadcast of the prisoners exchange at the Lebanese border showing Hizbullah turning over two coffins to the Red Cross.
The transmission was accompanied by propaganda videos praising the organizations and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, for "keeping his promise" and succeeding in releasing Kuntar.
Soldiers' coffins returned to Israel (Photo: Channel 2)
Hizbullah's liaison officer, Wafik Safa, refused to provide information on the two troops' fate as the exchange began. "I refuse to provide details on the condition of the two hostage soldiers," he said.
The Red Cross representatives, who were the first to see the captives on the Lebanese side of the border, had do information on their condition until the last minute.
The prisoner exchange deal with Hizbullah
was executed following months of German mediation, and after the government ratified
the deal and President Shimon Peres
pardoned Lebanese murderer Samir Kuntar.
Kuntar will return to Lebanon along with four other Lebanese prisoners, as well as the bodies of 199 Hizbullah members.
Dozens of media crews from Israel and the world flocked to the Rosh Hanikra area to cover the prisoner exchange. Defense Minister Ehud Barak was in his Tel Aviv office, receiving updates from his military secretary.
The five Lebanese prisoners left the Hadarim Prison in the Sharon region on Tuesday night and were taken to an IDF base in northern Israel, where they will await the implementation of the deal.
Video courtesy of Infolive.tv
The five, including Kuntar, were escorted to the border under heavy guard, provided by the Prison Service's Nahshon Unit, including wardens, attack dogs, police officers and four police cars.
"I don't know what world I'm coming out to," Kuntar said while preparing for his release.
Prisoner exchange - full coverage:
On Tuesday, Kuntar and the four Lebanese prisoners met in prison with Red Cross representatives. They underwent medical examinations by the Israel Prison Service's medical crews and by the Red Cross.
After bidding farewell to their fellow inmates, the five were then taken out of the wings they were jailed in and put in seclusion. Early Tuesday, they underwent final identification by the prison's chief inspector, Colonel Nabil Amar. Cuffed in their hands and legs, the four were put into the vehicles taking them up north.
The prisoners left the jail with a towel and two private items, and without suitcases or bags. The rest of the personal equipment they left behind will be transferred by the IPS to the Red Cross, and it will be delivered to them after they arrive in Lebanon.
The IDF completed all its preparation for the prisoner exchange on Tuesday evening. The sensitive operation was to take place in four centers: The Amiad Camp, from where 23 Red Cross trucks carrying 199 bodies left towards northern Israel; the Rosh Hanikra border crossing, where the Israeli soldiers' bodies arrived; the Shraga Camp, where the troops' families will arrive, as well as senior state and IDF officials; and the Liman Camp, where IDF forces were on high alert in case of any surprises.
Eager anticipation. Goldwasser family home (Photo: AP)
The preparations for the operation were completed upon the declaration of all these areas a closed military zone, in order to prevent the entry of civilians who may disrupt the process.
As for the Lebanese reports
that one of the soldiers was killed and the second one's condition is unknown, IDF officials said this was another manipulation by Hizbullah aimed at creating bad feelings among the troops' families and the Israeli public.
After the two soldiers are brought to the Rosh Hanikra crossing, their identification process will be carried out by senior staff, including members of the Military Rabbinate and the police's criminal identification unit – a process which may take hours. People involved in the procedure explained that DNA samples may be needed.
The families remained at their homes awaiting the IDF announcements, which was to be given to them by Major-General Elazar Stern, head of the army's Personnel Directorate, and Central Command Chief Major-General Gadi Shamni.
After receiving the news, the family members were expected to arrive at the Shraga Camp, where they will meet with their loved ones for the last time. Heads of the State and military may join the families.
Following the final identification of Regev and Goldwasser, the 199 bodies and five Lebanese prisoners will be transferred to Lebanon through the Rosh Hanikra crossing.
Lebanon celebrates Kuntar's return (Photo: AFP)
IDF officials estimated Tuesday that Kuntar will be welcomed in a festive manner, and that Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah
may even leave his hiding place for several hours in order to take part in the celebrations.
"One must remember that Hizbullah caused great damage in Lebanon and 20 times more casualties than in Israel. Therefore, with all due respect to their celebrations, we must remember the real situation. They are about to turn a despicable killer who murdered a four-year-old girl into a national hero. This testifies to their grim situation," an IDF official said.
Ahead of the deal's implementation, the IDF raised its alert level in northern Israel. However, there are no concrete warnings on plans to carry out attacks. Army officials said that the forces were on high alert, but estimated that Hizbullah had learned the lesson from the 2006 kidnapping and will think twice before attacking again.
Hanan Greenberg, Ahiya Raved, Raanan Ben-Zur, Hagai Einav, Sharon Roffe-Ofir and Roee Nahmias contributed to this report