July 17, 2008

Israeli Soldiers Exchanged for Hezbollah Prisoners Buried in Military Funerals

JERUSALEM _ Two Israeli soldiers whose bodies were returned in a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah were buried Thursday in emotional funerals broadcast live on national television.

Thousands joined the ceremonies for Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who told mourners that Israel was "heartbroken" and had "paid a heavy price" to bring the fallen soldiers home. Israel freed five Lebanese militants, including Samir Kantar, convicted of killing a father and his 4-year-old daughter in a notorious attack nearly 30 years ago.

Regev and Goldwasser, both army reservists, were seized in a cross-border raid by Hezbollah on July 12, 2006, that triggered a monthlong war.

Their bodies were handed over Wednesday in exchange for the five militants and the remains of nearly 200 Lebanese, Palestinians and other Arabs killed in clashes with Israeli forces.

The soldiers were laid to rest in separate military funerals in the cities of Nahariya and Haifa, borne to their graves in flag-draped coffins.

Across the border in Lebanon, the freed militants, wearing camouflage fatigues, prayed at the grave of Imad Mughniyeh, the slain military commander of Hezbollah, and vowed to keep fighting Israel. Mughniyeh was killed by a car bomb in Damascus in February.

"We swear by God almighty that we will continue on your path until we achieve the same stature that God bestowed on you," Kantar said. Later, hundreds welcomed Kantar in his native village of Abey in the mountains south of Beirut.

Trucks carrying flag-draped coffins with the remains of the Arab fighters made their way to Beirut, showered with rice and rose petals by villagers.


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