"We found him" – that was the content of a text message sent Thursday to Major Dr. Pinni Kassutto, former director of the IDF's Missing Persons Unit, who headed the search for Majdy Halabi during the first few years of his disappearance.
Halabi went missing in May 2005. He was last seen at a hitchhikers' station in Daliyat al-Karmel. His remains were discovered in mid September in a forest near Isfiya. A DNA test performed by the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine confirmed his identity.
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Kassutto, who retired from the military four years ago, said that the IDF spared no effort in the search for Halabi: "The military did everything possible. Money or resources were never an issue."
The search included regular troops, reservists, the IDF K-9 Unit and the use of drones equipped with thermal imaging systems, he said.
The area where the remains were eventually found was combed through repeatedly more than once and using all possible methods, he added.
Halabi's mother (Photo: Hagai Aharon)
The discovery, Kassutto said, beat the odds: "Anyone familiar with the area where the remains were found knows it's nearly impossible (to canvass). One can truly disappear there forever.
"It's also a mountainous area, that can't just be leveled with bulldozers so it's very difficult to do a line search in that area," he explained, referring to a canvass method where search party members link arms and slowly progress together, inch by inch.
"This is what make the discovery a matter of pure luck. Until now, no one could ever say for sure if he was dead or alive."
Kassutto added that over the years, investigators were able to dismiss the possibility of a criminal act.
"It never seemed likely that someone would want to hurt him and the possibility that he would have taken his own life was very slim.
"Whatever happened must have happened fast, because we never found any evidence that he even got into a car."
Kassutto expressed hope that despite the difficult news, the family would now be able to find some peace of mind.
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; Ron Arad, who was captured in Lebanon in 1986 and Guy Hever who has been missing since August 1997.
Hassan Shaalan contributed to the report
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