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COMING HOME; Prisoner swap drama as dead Israeli troops are handed back.

Byline: BY MARK ELLIS FOREIGN EDITOR

THE bodies of two dead Israeli soldiers are handed over to officials by Hezbollah rebels yesterday in a dramatic border prisoner swap.

In exchange for the return of squaddies Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, Israel freed five Lebanese prisoners and the remains of 199 fighters killed in clashes.

The capture of the two soldiers sparked the bloody 34-day war in 2006 between the two nations that killed 1,200 people in Lebanon and 159 Israelis.

Regev, 26, and 30-year-old Goldwasser were handed back in two black coffins. Their grieving dads spoke of their pain as they watched the tense swap on TV.

Shlomo Goldwasser said: "It is not easy to see this, although there was not much surprise to it. But confronting this reality was difficult."

Zvi Regev added: "It was a terrible thing to see, really terrible. I was always optimistic, and I hoped all the time that I would meet Eldad and hug him."

The prisoner swap closed the painful chapter of the recent war. For Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas the deal was a moraleboosting time for celebration. But in Israel it was seen as a painful necessity.

Officials had presumed for some time the two soldiers were dead and the families of the men prepared for the worst.

Among the five Lebanese prisoners released was Samir Qantar who was serving life for killing a policeman, a four-year-old girl and her father in 1979.

Qantar - a hate figure in the Jewish state - was 17 when he joined Palestinian guerrillas in an attack on the Israeli town of Nahariya.

After killing the police officer, he burst into the home of Danny Haran who he then marched to a beach with his daughter.

Haran was shot dead as the terrified little girl looked on. She was then killed by a blow from a rifle butt.

Despite the vile murders, Qantar returned home to a hero's welcome in Lebanon.

THE EXCHANGE

From Hezbollah: Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, plus body parts of troops killed in south Lebanon in 2006

From Israel: Five Lebanese prisoners, including notorious triple killer Samir Qantar, pictured left, and the remains of 199 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters killed in clashes

CAPTION(S):

EMOTIONAL Bodies of soldiers return yesterday Picture: AFP; THE SOLDIERS RETURNED Israeli Defence Force reservist Ehud Goldwasser; RETURNED Israeli Defence Force reservist Eldad Regev
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 17, 2008
Words:396
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