Final goodbye: Thousands of people arrived at Haifa's military cemetery Thursday afternoon in order to pay their last respects to Sergeant Major (res.) Eldad Regev, whose body was returned to Israel in the framework of the prisoner exchange deal with
Ofer Dekel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's envoy
for the return of the kidnapped soldiers, was also on hand for the funeral. The parents of captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, Noam and Aviva, also took part in the funeral after attending the memorial service for Ehud Goldwasser at the Nahariya military cemetery earlier in the day.
Goldwasser and Regev were captured by Hizbullah terrorists during a cross-border raid on July 12, 2006, an incident that triggered the Second Lebanon War.
Prior to the funeral procession a convoy including a vehicle carrying Regev's coffin left the Shraga base near Nahariya and made its way to the family home in Kiryat Motzkin. From there the coffin was transferred to the funeral home.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in his eulogy, "This wasn't the welcome we anticipated," he said. "We all dreamt – the families and the State of Israel – to hold Udi (Goldwasser) and Eldad and embrace them with warmth and love after two sad years.
"We wanted to see them smiling. Tears of pain accompany their return home and the heart is indeed heavy," he said.
Turning to the Regev family, Barak said "you'll never know how proud we are of you. Today we are all with you – an entire nation; proud and grief-stricken.
"I salute you Eldad; rest in peace,' he said.
'Tears of pain.' Regev funeral (Photo: Hagai Aharon)
Eldad's brother Ofer Regev said in his eulogy ""I'm proud to belong to (a nation) of lovers and not haters. Every Israeli mother whose son is sent to war should know that the fate of her son is in the hands of dedicated commanders who will work tirelessly for his release."
Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar said "every Jew who is killed in the name of God and for being Jewish is at the highest level possible.
"I have no doubt that they (Regev and Ehud Goldwasser) are standing before the holy throne," he said.
Shaul Peled, a member of Regev's platoon also eulogized his comrade: "Knowing you, you were probably uncomfortable with the number of people who took part in the campaign for your return home. We all stand here full of longing and sorrow, but also glad that you are home with us.
"I wish I could see you for just a few seconds to tell you how much we've missed you," he said.
On Wednesday evening a convoy of military vehicles carrying the coffins of Regev and Goldwasser left the Lebanon border and arrived at the Shraga base in the north.
The soldiers' families and Israel's top political and military leaders later arrived at the base for an emotional farewell session. The families spent about an hour with the coffins of their loved ones, placed in two tents erected earlier in the day.
Olmert entered the tent where Regev's casket was placed, hugged his brother, and wiped away tears. "It was an event where the eyes did the talking, not the mouth," IDF Spokesman Avi Benayahu said later.
"Each family sat alone for long minutes, cried, and caressed the coffins. Karnit's mother read out a letter she wrote to Udi earlier. It was touching and very painful. The army chief saluted both coffins."