Cleared for publication: The remains of IDF
soldier Majdy Halabi,
who went missing in May 2005, have been found in a forest near Isfiya.
The remains were found two weeks ago, not far from where Halabi was last seen. Halabi's family had asked that the search operation be resumed after the Carmel Fire,
which left the forest floor more exposed.
Police continue to investigate the circumstances of Halabi's death. His family was notified of the discovery and Halabi's remains were transferred to the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine, where a DNA test
confirmed they belong to the missing soldier.
IDF officers outside the family home (Photo: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv)
Majdi Halabi left his Daliyat al-Karmel home headed to the IDF base in Haifa,
where he was serving, on May 24, 2005. He used an ATM machine in the city, purchased a can of soda and arrived at a hitchhikers' station in the town. He was last seen by a relative passing by in the area. He has been missing ever since.
Two days later his family received word from the army that Majadi was missing. A large-scale search operation was launched. The soldier was officially declared missing on May 30, six days after his disappearance. Over the years, police have established several teams to investigate the disappearance.
The Born to Be Free foundation took part in the search efforts and declared a $10 million reward to anyone who would bring forward information on Halabi's whereabouts. Photos of the missing soldier were also posted online and distributed in Arab countries.
Halabi's father, Mazmeh, told Ynet: "This is very difficult. We always had faith and we never lost hope. I want to thank all the security forces – the IDF and the police, and the people of Israel."
"This is it now. We believe in fate. This is a very difficult blow and we're in a difficult state but we thank all those who stood by us and supported us."
Ad offering reward for info on Halabi (Photo: George Ginsberg)
The family, he added, will work vis-à-vis the police to get answers about what happened: "We have a team, from the family, to make sure we get all the details from the police and help further the investigation," he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
called the family and expressed his personal condolences and those of the government's. "This is devastating news. I sympathize with your pain," Netanyahu said.
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz expressed his condolences as well, saying that the IDF will "help the family with whatever it needs."
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin also called the family, and expressed his condolences, as did Defense Minister Ehud Barak:
"The IDF and the entire defense establishment feels your pain over this difficult news and lose," he said.
Head of the IDF Personnel Directorate Major-General Orna Barbivai
visited the Halabi home Thursday afternoon.
"The IDF will continue to see to the family's needs and once the inquest is over, they will be fully briefed," she told reporters.
Nurit Bublil, a DNA specialist with the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine, told Ynet that the institute was first given the remains for testing in September.
"We received samples in September for DNA profiling, which is a lengthy process… Over the years we tested hundreds of remains against the original DNA sample," she said, referring to DNA samples all IDF soldiers are required to provide the military upon enlisting.
"The military provided the original DNA sample in 2008 and we can now say, in all certainty, that it's a match."
By a bizarre twist of fate, Ibrahim Kozli, 26, who stumbled across the missing soldier's remains, was a childhood friend of Halabi's.
Kozli was in the midst of clearing work for the Jewish National Fund, which has been heading the Carmel Forest's rehabilitation project.
Kozli at the scene (Photo: Eran Yuppy Cohen)
The Daliyat al-Karmel resident told Ynet that the remains became visible after he removed tree debris from the area.
"We were standing 10 meters away and couldn't see anything. It wasn't until I pulled (the trees) away that we saw him. If it wasn’t for the fire I don’t think we would have found him," he told Ynet.
Kozli said his acquaintance with Halabi dates back to their school days in Daliyat al-Karmel.
"We knew each other from school. He was a good guy, he never got into any trouble… This is a time of mixed emotions. It's very sad that Majdy is dead, but at least now his family knows. Maybe his parents can find some peace."
With Halabi's body found, there are now five missing IDF soldiers: Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman who went missing after the 1982 Battle of Sultan Yacoub;
who was captured in Lebanon in 1986 and Guy Hever
who has been missing since August 1997.
IDF soldier Majdy Halabi will be laid to rest on noon Friday, in Isfiya's Military Cemetery.
Hassan Shaalan and Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report