Israel trades murderer for bodies


ISRAEL'S cabinet agreed yesterday to a deal with Lebanon's Shiite fundamentalist Hezbollah group, in which it will set free a man serving multiple life sentences in exchange for the remains of two Israeli soldiers.

The decision was immediately claimed as a victory by Hezbollah as a fulfilment of its promise to free Samir Kantar, sentenced in 1980 to 542 years in prison for an attack in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya.


Retrieving the two seized soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, captured during a Hezbollah cross-border raid, was one of the stated aims of Israel's devastating military campaign in Lebanon in 2006. But prime minister Ehud Olmert announced during the cabinet meeting what had long been feared: that the two soldiers were dead, killed during the raid or shortly thereafter.

Israeli media said the soldiers' bodies would be sent to Germany, which mediated the swap, and identified by Israeli officials before Kantar is released. He is to be freed, along with four Hezbollah fighters; a dozen corpses, most of them of Hezbollah militiamen, will also be repatriated.

Witnesses said that during the 1979 Nahariya attack, Kantar, then 16, shot dead a young Israeli father, Danny Haran, in front of his four-year-old daughter, then smashed her skull against a rock with his rifle butt, killing her too. Her two-year-old sister was accidentally smothered to death while her mother tried to keep her quiet so that Kantar would not discover them.

I don't think I would have made this deal, not with Kantar alive anyway. I would have exchanged his remains for the remains of the soldiers. Those two dead soldiers were very costly to Hezballah and Lebanon. The 2006 war was costly for both sides, but it was a strategic defeat for Hezballah and Iran.


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