As predicted here, the exchange of live, guilty jihadists for the bodies of soldiers kidnapped and killed by Hizballah has emboldened Hamas to press its demands in return for the release of Gilad Schalit.
“Lebanese militant released in Israel prisoner swap,” by Hussein Dakroub for the Associated Press, July 16:
NAQOURA, Lebanon – Israel freed a notorious Lebanese attacker and four others Wednesday after Hezbollah handed over two black coffins with the bodies of Israeli soldiers, a dramatic prisoner swap that closes a painful chapter from the 2006 war in Lebanon.
The five “” including Samir Kantar, who had been serving multiple life terms in Israel for a grisly 1979 attack “” were brought home in International Committee for the Red Cross vehicles and received a red-carpet welcome at this coastal border town.
In Israel, family and friends outside the homes of the two captured Israeli soldiers burst into tears when TV images showed Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas taking the coffins out of a black van.
Though officials had suspected Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were dead, the sight of the coffins was the first confirmation of their fate.
The swap “” mediated by a U.N.-appointed German official who shuttled between the sides for 18 months “” reopened another searing moment from Israel’s past with the release of Samir Kantar and four other Lebanese prisoners.
Kantar was convicted in a 1979 nighttime attack that killed a 4-year-old girl, her father and a policeman. Although polls show Israelis solidly endorse the exchange, many see Kantar as the embodiment of evil.
In Lebanon, a hero’s welcome was prepared for Kantar, a Lebanese Druse who acted on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Front, a small faction of the PLO. The swap is likely to provide a significant boost to Hezbollah, which is trying to rebuild a reputation tarnished when it turned its guns on fellow Lebanese in May.
Winning freedom for Kantar was one of the reasons Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah cited at the time for going to war with Israel in 2006.
Wednesday’s exchange was a wrenching end to the war for Israel, which launched the fighting in response to the servicemen’s capture. The campaign to bring them home had become a national crusade.
Israeli forensic experts examined the remains for several hours, checking dental records among other things, before confirming the soldiers’ identities. Israeli generals then went to the families’ homes to deliver the news.
“The military bows its head and lowers its flags and warmly embraces the families, remembering its fighters who fell and were held by the enemy for two years,” Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu, the chief military spokesman, said at the Rosh Hanikra border crossing.
The two soldiers, who were promoted posthumously, are to be buried on Thursday, he said. […]
In the Gaza Strip, controlled by the violently anti-Israel Hamas group, people handed out sweets to celebrate Kantar’s impending release.
Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza’s Hamas prime minister, warned Israel that it also will have to “pay the price” for an Israeli soldier that Hamas has been holding since June 2006 and presumed alive.
“There is a captive Israeli soldier, and thousands of our sons are in prison,” Haniyeh said. “Let them answer our demands.”
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, speaking in Germany, said he hoped Wednesday’s prisoner swap would be “the beginning of many to come in the future.”