* The sickening release of a child-murdering maniac against the remains of twoÂ murderedÂ Israeli’s is infuriating. Not too late: it can still be rectified. The only question now is why isn’t it done when the chances are good?
BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) — Five Lebanese militants, including a convicted murderer, received heroes’ welcomes Wednesday as they returned to Beirut from Israel as part of a prisoner swap.
Once in Beirut, convicted murderer Samir Kuntar — who was the longest-held Lebanese prisoner in Israel — told a crowd of thousands he’d continue to fight for the liberation of the Palestinian territories.
“I return today from Palestine, but believe me, I return to Lebanon only in order to return to Palestine,” Kuntar said.
Kuntar — convicted of killing a man and a girl in Israel in 1979 — and the other four were released by Israel and crossed into southern Lebanon to cheers. They then were flown to Beirut, where Lebanese President Michel Suleiman called them “our dear liberated heroes.”
This is the animal (Sami Kuntar) Olmert set free today to receive a “hero’s welcome” in Lebanon. This is a dark day for Israel:
“After drowning Danny [the father] in the sea in front of Einat (as Ahmed Al-Brass, Mhanna Salim Al-Muayed, and Abdel Majeed Asslan served as look outs and backup cover for Kuntar),Â Kuntar turned his attention towards the 4 year-old. He took his rifle and then swung it across the toddler’s head, knocking her to the ground. Kuntar then dragged the toddler a couple of feet to the closest rock he could find and laid her head down on a rock, with the intention of crushing it with the butt of his rifle. Einat, instinctively covered her head with her arms, Kuntar struggled with the toddler until he finally managed to clear her arms out of the way. Once her arms were out of the way, Kuntar repeatedly beat her on the head with the butt of his rifle and stomping on her body, until blood rushed out of her ears and mouth. Then, to ensure she was dead, Kuntar continued beating her over the head until her skull was crushed and she was dead.”Â (more here is you can stand it)
The Olmert government has known that Regav and Goldwasser have been dead for 2 years.
Â “Olmert deflecting attention from his own corruption has he lets monsters with blood on their hands free!”
The other four are Lebanese militants captured during the Hezbollah-Israel war two years ago. Israel on Wednesday also released the remains of 199 fighters from Lebanon.
Earlier Wednesday, Hezbollah released to Israel the bodies of two Israeli soldiers who had been abducted in 2006, the Israel Defense Forces said.
More on page 2 (or CNN)
Israelis uneasy over prisoner release
Critics say the deal, which they see as lopsided, could embolden Hezbollah
*ByÂ Ilene R. Prusher | Staff Writer CSM
and Joshua Mitnick | Correspondent
from the July 17, 2008 edition
JERUSALEM and NAHARIYA, ISRAEL – Israel received two black coffins on Wednesday containing the remains of the soldiers abducted in a Hezbollah raid at Israel’s northern border two summers ago â€“ a surprise attack whose aftereffects are still reverberating.
The long-awaited prisoner exchange, far from closing a chapter that included a 34-day war and raising hopes for peace, instead has Israel grieving over its losses and watching for further military maneuvers by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
Moreover, the inherent disparity of the deal has sparked concerns that it will embolden Hezbollah, Hamas, and other foes of Israel to kidnap soldiers and civilians, knowing that they can extract large concessions. Israel agreed to receive the soldiers dead or alive in exchange for the remains of 200 Lebanese as well as the release of five Lebanese prisoners, including Samir Kuntar, who was convicted of murdering an Israeli father and child in Nahariya nearly 30 years ago.
Continued Page 2
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, making his first public appearance since September 2006, also greeted the five militants before cheering throngs of thousands of Hezbollah supporters in Beirut.
“I’m here to congratulate all of you,” Nasrallah said. “As we said in the year 2000, the time of defeat is done and now it is a time of victories.” Because of security concerns, Nasrallah typically does not appear in public.
Suleiman said Lebanon “feels very proud as we welcome back the heroic resistance fighters who were released from the Israeli occupation.”
“We also feel proud of the martyrs whose bodies were returned here today,” Suleiman said.
Upon their arrival in southern Lebanon, the five released militants changed into military garb and were greeted by the handshakes and embraces of dignitaries and officials before crowds of Hezbollah supporters. Watch Kuntar smile as he enters Lebanon Â»
* continued from page 1
Israelis uneasy over prisoner release
Anyone that kidnaps an Israeli will now know that Israel is willing to pay an extremely high price, totally out of proportion with what the other side will pay,” says Danny Yatom, former head of Mossad, the intelligence agency.
The vendetta between Israel and Hezbollah, a Shiite militia based in south Lebanon, seems far from abating. In February, Hezbollah mastermind Imad Mughniyah was assassinated, presumably by Israel. He was the author of many deadly attacks on Israelis and Americans, and is reported to have orchestrated the July 2006 raid that led to the abduction of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, the Israeli soldiers who Hezbollah officials said, until the last moment, might still be alive. Hezbollah dedicated the exchange deal to Mughniyah’s memory, and Israeli intelligence estimates that after the swap, Hezbollah may launch attacks, in Israel or elsewhere, to avenge his assassination.
Israel also still occupies Shebaa Farms, a disputed territory between Israel, the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, and Lebanon. Hezbollah leaders have said that they must continue resistance to Israel until they retrieve the territory.
“[In] the long run, the concerns are that Hezbollah feels itself a victor,” says Yitzhak Reiter, a professor of political science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“The swap of prisoners is a strong indicator that, at the end of the day, Hezbollah achieved its goal: to release Samir Kuntar and to gain more power in Lebanon because of its violent engagement with Israel,” he says.
But, he adds, “will this bring Hezbollah back to the battlefield with Israel? I think this is unlikely to happen.”
He notes that Hezbollah must take into account Lebanon’s political scene: namely, that further warfare would destroy infrastructure and harm innocent civilians, undermining public patience.
“We also see a change with Syria, in that Syria is more interested in being part of the consensus and engaging in Europe,” Mr. Reiter says. “Syria will put some breaks on if Hezbollah tries to move, and it has a vested interest in avoiding an escalation of the situation. “
Nonetheless, the Israel Defense Forces [IDF] have gone on high alert. The IDF’s Northern Command has made it clear that tensions are high, and troops have been told to expect a flare-up. Defense officials have also been charging that Hezbollah has been rebuilding its military infrastructure in southern Lebanon. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that UN Resolution 1701, which brought the 2006 conflict to an end, was “a failure,” and struck a different tone on Syria.
“Hezbollah continues to get stronger, thanks to the ongoing help of Syria,” Mr. Barak said. “We should be saying clearly: Resolution 1701 has not worked, is not working, and will not work.”
One Israeli expert on Lebanon and Syria, Tel Aviv University’s Eyal Zisser, says a wild card is the perception in Lebanon of the weakness of the Israeli government, given the ongoing troubles of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who will be replaced as party leader in September.
“For the last two years, the border was quiet, and we ask ourselves constantly, for how long? It is in Hezbollah’s interest to resume its operations along the border. It’s waiting for an opportunity, and I don’t think this is it,” he says. “But because of the weakness of the Israeli government … they might come to a conclusion that the government … will not retaliate, and this could lead to escalation.”
In the northern town of Nahariya, Gabi Abotbul found himself trapped in his store’s bathroom when the building was hit by a rocket two years ago. He doesn’t see the swap as promoting closure.
“Tomorrow, if they wanted, they could fire,” he says. “Hezbollah calls all of the shots [in Lebanon]. Sooner or later they will try to do something. It’s only a matter of time. It might sound ridiculous, but we need to go into [Lebanon] with all our might and uproot them completely.”
Nahariya was “put on the map” by the traumas of 2006 and of 1979. Two years ago, Katyusha rockets rained down on the town for more than a month. The house of the family of Ehud Goldwasser, one of the soldiers whose remains were returned Wednesday, is near the building where Danny Haran and his four-year-old daughter were abducted and killed by Mr. Kuntar in 1979. A policeman and Haran’s other daughter died in the attack as well. Kuntar’s release convoy was routed around the city.
“People are tense,” says Rotem Kabessa, a young journalist who grew up hearing stories about the attack. “They are not happy Kuntar is being released.”
Yosi Tsachor was the commanding officer of the army’s home front command in Nahariya when the town was infiltrated by Kuntar and other militants. As he pursued Kuntar, Kuntar wounded Mr. Tsachor with three bullets.
Wednesday, he listened to news updates while showing a visitor shrapnel that fell in his yard two years ago. “Hezbollah is stronger than before the war. And I don’t see any closing of the circle,” he says. “If you ask, will there be quiet, in my opinion, no. If there are 40 days of quiet, I’m happy.”