Hizbullah returns soldiers' remains to Israel
Red Cross confirms receiving box which Shiite organization claims contains body parts of Israeli soldiers killed in Second Lebanon War, following release of convicted Lebanese spy Nissim Nasser from Israeli jail. German FM: I hope this step will lead to prisoner exchange
The body parts' transfer was completed shortly after 3 pm, and the remains were taken for identification to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in a Magen David Adom ambulance along with representatives of the Military Rabbinate .
Head of the IDF Human Resources Directorate, Major-General Elazar Stern, appointed a crew to contact the bereaved families of the Second Lebanon War and update them on any development pertaining to transfer of remains by Hizbullah.
IDF officials admitted in the past that several bodies of soldiers killed in the 2006 war were missing parts due to the types of injury, but said that all funerals were held according to Jewish law.
A Hizbullah official, Wafik Safa, reported of the remains' transfer at the Lebanese coastal border town of Naqoura minutes after Lebanese-Israeli citizen Nissim Nasser was released by Israel after serving a six-year jail term for spying for Hizbullah.
"We will hand over the remains of several Israeli soldiers killed in the recent war, who were left by the Israeli army in Lebanon. These are some of the remains we are handing over to the Red Cross today," he said.
Safa made the announcement live on al-Manar television as he stood next to a brown box which he said contained the remains. Nasser stood next to Safa as he spoke. The box was handed over to the Red Cross at the Rosh Hanikra crossing point.
Rosh Hanikra crossing point (Photo: AFP)
A Red Cross spokeswoman confirmed that Hizbullah handed the organization a box containing body parts. "We have just completed the transfer and the picture will be clarified soon."
Officials in Jerusalem refused to address the issue, but knowledgeable sources have told Ynet that there was a positive development in terms of the negotiations with Hizbullah.
The box was handed over to IDF forces at the Rosh Hanikra crossing point as a Hizbullah gesture as part of the negotiations for the release of kidnapped Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, in exchange for the release of Lebanese prisoners, including murderer Samir Kuntar.
After the box was handed over to Israel by the Red Cross, it was checked by IDF sappers in order to ensure that it is not booby-trapped.
Hizbullah leader Nasrallah stated several months ago that his organization held the body parts of IDF soldiers. The transfer of the box was not coordinated with Israel. IDF officials also said that they were unaware of Hizbullah's plan to return the soldiers' remains.
According to reports in Lebanon, the deal to deliver the remains in exchange for Nasser was finalized in advance and made public only upon its implementation at the border crossing. It appears that even Hizbullah's al-Manar network was surprised by the news.
Nasser was released Sunday morning from the Nitzan Prison in Ramallah. He was accompanied by Immigration Police officers to the Rosh Hanikra crossing point, where he was returned to Lebanon.
Zvi Regev, the father of kidnapped soldier Eldad Regev, told Ynet that he was not updated on the return of bodies into Israel. "Since we have not been informed of anything, I have nothing to be encouraged by. I haven’t heard about it. I wish it were part of progress and that we will see the sons at home, but at this stage all we have is hope."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters after meeting Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in Beirut later on Sunday that "I hope this is a step in the direction of a prisoner exchange.
"I am happy that preliminary steps were taken in that direction and hope that this creates a positive dynamic, building mutual trust. Quick progress will be in the interest of the victims and concerned parties," he said.
Germany is acting as mediator in negotiations between Hizbullah and Israel on a prisoner exchange.
Nasser gets festive welcome
As Nasser arrived at the Lebanese village of Naqoura, Hizbullah commenced the celebrations and ceremonies in his honor, receiving him with a military parade.
As soon as Nasser reached the main podium, doves and yellow Hizbullah balloons were released in the air. Nasser was welcomed by his family and waved to the crowd.
Hizbullah celebrates Nasser's release (Photo: Al-Jazeera)
Upon his release, Nasser told al-Manar, "I want to congratulate Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, the prisoners' families, the prisoners themselves and all the citizens.
Nasser is a former Jew who converted to Islam, moved to Israel from Lebanon and was sentenced to six years in prison for espionage in 2002.
His prison term, mostly spend at Hasharon Prison, has recently ended, but the security establishment considered holding onto him – perhaps as a bargaining chip in the negotiations – and he has been held under administrative arrest at the Nitzan Detention Center.
Nasser conceded his Israeli citizenship and was transferred to Lebanon in what seemed to be a sign of progress in the deal for the return of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped in July 2006.
Hagai Einav, Hanan Greenberg, Roni Sofer, Sharon Roffe-Ofir, Roi Mandel and AP contributed to this report