Tags: prisoner | swap

Hezbollah Returns Imprisoned Israeli Soldiers in Coffins

Wednesday, 16 Jul 2008 11:22 AM

By Stewart Stogel

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United Nation, N.Y. — Ehud Goldwaser and Eldad Regev, two Israeli conscripts kidnapped at the Lebanese border by Hezbollah in July 2006, were killed by their Arab captors, Israeli sources report.

Hezbollah, under pressure from Syria, released the remains of the two Israeli Defense Forces soldiers Wednesday as part of a prisoner exchange arranged between the bitter enemies. Their bodies were returned by Hezbollah to Israeli in coffins, authorities say.

The U.N.-mediated swap closes a painful chapter for Israel, which launched a war in August 2006 against Hezbollah in response to the IDF soldiers' capture in a cross-border raid. The release of Goldwaser and Regev also was a condition to the cease-fire arranged by both combatants back in September of 2007.

Syria, under President Bashar al-Assad, reportedly has gone on a charm offensive in recent weeks in the hopes of arranging a face-to-face meeting with Israeli officials to further along the Middle East peace process. The soldiers' release, it is believed, came under pressure exerted on Hezbollah by its supporters in Damascus.

The prisoner exchange puts an end to a two-year ordeal for the families of Goldwaser and Regev, which paid visits to several European capitals as well the United Nations, to win their release.

In September 2007, Karnit Goldwasser, wife of Ehud, was able to gain admission to a U.N. press conference held by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was addressing the 2007 General Assembly.

Goldwasser gained entry into the restricted meeting compliments of the Israeli U.N. mission and some sympathetic UN Security officers. Israel's U.N. ambassador, in an unconventional decision, persuaded the U.N. to issue Goldwasser temporary diplomatic identification credentials.

Once inside the U.N. compound, security officers waved Goldwasser into the news conference, though other diplomats were turned away. The bereaved wife then confronted the Iranian president to"help facilitate her husband's release.

Goldwasser repeatedly charged that Ahmadinejad was the key to winning her husband's freedom. Confused and surprised, Ahmadinejad tried to ignore the Israeli, and after several minutes of an embarrassing standoff, eventually had her escorted out of the meeting by security officers, never responding to her pleas.

The Iranian mission filed a formal protest with United Nations office of protocol. Now, a year later, Goldwaser's pleas are finally answered with the remains of her husband finally returned.

Funeral services for the two IDF soldiers will be held later this week.

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