On October 7, 2000, three Israeli soldiers were abducted by Hizbullah while patrolling along the Israeli side of the Israeli-Lebanese border. Staff sergeants Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Souad were killed by their captures either during or shortly after their abduction. Their remains were returned to Israel in 2004, as part of a prisoner exchange deal struck with the Shiite group.
Abduction unfoldsSaturday, October 7, 2000, saw staff sergeants Avraham, Avitan and Souad patrol the Mt. Dov sector of Israel's border with Lebanon. At approximately 1 pm, a Hizbullah cell attacked their vehicle, which was a regular army patrol jeep and not an armored one, by setting off a powerful explosive device near the border's Shebaa Gate; breaching the gate and dragging the injured soldiers from their vehicle and onto Lebanese soil. All three soldiers were believed to have sustained severe injuries in the blast, rendering them unable to resist. According to Hizbullah, the kidnapped men were hidden deep within Lebanese territory within 40 minutes of the attack.
Hizbullah used diversion tactics in order to mask the lethal attack, sending dozens of Palestinian demonstrators to riot near the Zar'it Gate, in the border's western sector, and ensuring IDF posts all across the Mt. Dov sector met with heavy rocket fire by its operatives in Lebanon.
The IDF tried to thwart Hizbullah's attempt to take the abducted soldiers deep into Lebanon, shelling the area and mounting Air Force strikes on nearby Hizbullah posts, but to no avail.
The Shiite group refused to release any information on the three's medical condition, confirming only that one of them was injured.
On October 15 2000, Hizbullah Chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah announced that his organization was also holding an Israeli lieutenant colonel hostage. The officers, identified as Lt.-Col (Res.) Elhanan Tenenbaum, was said to be a Mossad agent who arrived in Lebanon of his own accord and captured by the group.
UN involvementIn June 2001, Israel learned that the UN had footage of the abduction – a fact adamantly denied by the organization up to that point. The incident was filmed by UNIFIL soldiers stationed in Lebanon and revealed that Hizbullah had moved the soldier away from a near-border hiding place 18 hours after the abduction took place. The UN was also found to be in possession of clothing and personal effects belonging to Avraham, Avitan and Souad.
The UN initially refused to turn the film and artifact overs to Israel, eventually agreeing to reveal only a fraction of the footage and turning over 53 artifacts found at the scene, 13 of which were later identified as belonging to the three Israeli soldiers.
The UN's conduct in the matter – compounded by the fact that though UNIFIL soldiers witnessed and filmed the kidnapping, they did nothing to foil it or help the Israeli soldiers – led to severe accusations suggesting UNIFIL was somehow involved in the abduction itself. In September of 2004, the Avraham, Avitan and Souad families said they would pursue legal action against the UN for aiding Hizbullah.
Prisoner exchange deal
On October 29, 2001, then-Head of the IDF Personnel Directorate Major-General Gil Regev announced that based on forensic information and analysis of the scene the IDF no longer had reason to believe the soldiers were alive. On November 3, 2001, then-Chief Military Rabbi Israel Weiss – in a decision sanctioned by the chief rabbis of Israel – declared all thee soldiers fatalities whose burial site was unknown, allowing their families to mourn and sit Shiva.
In late January 2004, after a lengthy negotiation brokered by Germany, Israel and Hizbullah finally agreed on a prisoner exchange deal meant to secure the return of captive reservist Elhanan Tenenbaum and the three soldiers' remains, to Israel.
On January 29, Tenenbaum and the three's caskets were flown to Germany, while Israel flew 36 foreign nationals to Berlin and released 400 Palestinian prisoners. Among those released were Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Abdul-Karim Obeid – considered to be key bargaining chips in Israel's efforts to learn of long-missing IAF navigator Ron Arad's fate. The move was, and still is, considered controversial.
Staff Sergeant Benny Avraham was laid to rest at the Kiryat Shaul Military Cemetery in Tel Aviv on the morning of January 30, 2004. Staff Sergeant Adi Avitan was laid to rest in the Military Cemetery in Tiberias on noon the same day. January 30, 2004 also saw Staff Sergeant Omar Souad laid to rest in his village of Salama.