Hezbollah And Israel Trade Prisoners The exchange prompted celebrations in Lebanon and somber reflection in Israel. Hezbollah turned over the remains of two Israeli soldiers for notorious Lebanese prisoners and the remains of nearly 200 Hezbollah and Palestinian fighters.

Hezbollah And Israel Trade Prisoners

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From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.


I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, how and why the Bush administration used so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" in the war on terror.

CHADWICK: First, a prisoner exchange of sorts in the Middle East today. Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon gave Israel the bodies of two Israeli soldiers captured on the border two years ago. And in exchange, Israel freed five Lebanese prisoners. One of them participated in the murders of three Israelis years ago. Hezbollah prepared a hero's welcome for them in Lebanon. Linda Gradstein reports.

LINDA GRADSTEIN: Until the two black coffins arrived in Israel, there had been no information about the fate of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the two Israeli soldiers captured on the Lebanese border just over two years ago. Family members had hoped they were alive and that today would be a day of happy reunions. Instead it became a day of mourning. In exchange for the bodies of the two soldiers, Israel freed five Lebanese prisoners. One of them, Samir Kuntar, was the longest-serving Arab prisoner in an Israeli jail.

In 1979, Kuntar, who was 16 at the time, murdered two members of an Israeli family and a policeman in the seaside town of Nahariya, not far from the Lebanese border. The mother of the family was hiding in a crawlspace in the apartment. She accidentally smothered her two-year-old daughter as she tried to keep her quiet.

Kuntar was sentenced to five life terms. Today, almost 30 years later, he was freed. The decision to include Kuntar in the exchange was controversial here. In comments that were widely broadcast, Israeli government spokesman, Mark Regev says, it was worth it. Here he is speaking on the BBC.

Mr. MARK REGEV (Spokesman, Israeli Government): In the end, it was decided that we have to give priority to bringing back our two servicemen, even knowing that they probably were not alive.

GRADSTEIN: One of the two soldiers who was returned today, was also from the small town of Nahariya. The two families knew each other. Smadar Haran, the woman whose husband and daughters were killed, told Israeli media she did not object to Kuntar's release in exchange for the two soldiers. But Shlomo Regev, the father of Eldad Regev, was bitter about Kuntar's release, in comments to the news media.

Mr. SHLOMO REGEV (Father of Eldad Regev): A murderer. A bloody murderer of a three years - three and a half years old girl and her father. And forgive them, making all this glory. For this we sacrifice so much, so I feel only pity for them.

GRADSTEIN: Omni Avni, the father-in-law of Ehud Goldwasser, told Israel Television that his daughter Karnit and the family are finding it hard to absorb the news.

Mr. OMNI AVNI (Father-in-Law of Ehud Goldwasser): (Hebrew spoken)

GRADSTEIN: After two difficult years, this is the most difficult moment we've had, he said. Karnit made a vow to bring her husband home, and now that she has, it released a storm of emotions. He also told reporters that the family wants to be alone to grieve privately. Tomorrow, both soldiers will be buried in military funerals.

There was also an exchange of the remains of an unspecified number of Israeli soldiers killed in fighting in Lebanon, for 199 bodies of Hezbollah and Palestinian fighters. Today's exchange may also affect ongoing negotiations for another Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. Shalit was captured on the Gaza border just a few weeks before Regev and Goldwasser; he is believed to be alive. And Hamas had demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

In Lebanon, the government declared a national holiday to celebrate the prisoners' return. The five prisoners crossed into Lebanon in the early evening and large celebrations were planned in Beirut. For NPR News, I'm Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem.

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