While Lebanon is celebrating the return of the prisoners as part of an exchange, Israel is holding military funerals for Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, two soldiers returned (photo, from boston.com) from Lebanon by the Hezbollah movement.
The Israeli soldiers are believed to have died in 2006, when they were ambushed. Their capture started the 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon.
Five Lebanese prisoners and the bodies of 200 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters have been released by Israel, in exchange for the return of their bodies.
Mr Goldwasser’s funeral were held at the military cemetery in his hometown of Nahariya in northern Israel, were thousands of people have gathered. Wearing purple berets, soldiers carried Mr Goldwasser’s coffin with the Israeli flag stretched across it.
The second soldier, Mr Regev is to be buried later on Thursday, in the military section of the cemetery in Haifa.
The Jerusalem Post newspaper reported that Mr Goldwasser died of a chest wound from a rocket-propelled grenade when the vehicle he and Mr Regev were in was ambushed, Israeli officials said.
The grenade blast also wounded Mr Regev, who was then shot in the head, added the newspaper.
Lebanon celebrates ‘victory’
Though the Israeli military feels an obligation to bring all its soldiers home, Wednesday’s exchange has been controversial in Israel, as it freed convicted murderer Samir Kuntar.
In the same time, in a triumphal cortege, the remains of the returned Lebanese and Palestinian fighters have been carried to Beirut, Lebanon’s capital.
Supporters as well as opponents of Hezbollah treat the exchange as a triumphe, says the BBC’s Crispin Thorold in Beirut.
The five militants freed by Israel have been personally welcomed home on Wednesday, by Hassan Nasrallah (right on the photo, from AFP, Samir Kuntar on the left), Hezbollah leader. His appearance was the first time he had been seen in public since January.
He hugged and kissed each of the former prisoners, before addressing the tens of thousands of people in the crowd gathered in honour of the five militants freed. Many in the crowd were waving the yellow and green flag of the movement, hailing the “victory”.
Sheikh Nasrallah told the crowd that the “age of defeats” was over. “This people and this nation and this country that gave a clear picture to the world … cannot be defeated”, he said.
“He said this is the way to make an achievement, this is the way to free the prisoners” Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, said of the televised address Nasrallah gave after leaving the stage.
‘Sovereignty of our land’
“He called on all the Arab and Muslim world, he said there are 11,000 Palestinian prisoners still in Israeli jails and this is the responsibility of all the Arab world.”
Dressed in military fatigues, Samir Kuntar also spoke at the rally : “I would like to thank God the almighty who gave this country this great resistance … I would like to thank God for reaching this day, this day of victories.”
“I returned today from Palestine but believe me I will not return until I go back to Palestine.”
“I promise my people and dear ones in Palestine that I and my dear comrades in the valiant Islamic resistance are returning.”
After being brough accross the border to Naqoura town, in southern Lebanon, in a convoy of four International Committee of the Red Cross vehicles, the prisoners were met by hundreds of well-wishers. Then they boarded Lebanese army helicopters for a flight to Beirut, in order to be received by the country’s president, prime minister and other officials.
“Your return is a new victory and the future with you will only be a shinning march in which we achieve the sovereignty of our land and the freedom of people”, Michel Sleiman, the president, said at the airport.
“I tell Samir and his companions that they have a right to be proud of their country, their army and their resistance”, he added.