Page last updated at 13:10 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 14:10 UK

Israel buries returned soldiers


A gun salute at Ehud Goldwasser's funeral

Thousands in Israel have been attending the funerals of two soldiers returned from Lebanon by the militant Hezbollah movement as part of a prisoner swap.

Hezbollah has said the reservists - Sgt Eldad Regev and Sgt Ehud Goldwasser - were captured alive in an ambush in 2006, but had been fatally wounded.

The incident sparked a month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah.

In exchange for the soldiers' remains, Israel released five Lebanese prisoners and the remains of 200 fighters.

Karnit Goldwasser - Ehud's widow - at his funeral - grab from TV
I had hoped that I would awake one day and say that this had been just a dream, a bad dream
Karnit Goldwasser

Sgt Regev was buried in the military section of the cemetery in Haifa, while earlier the funeral of Sgt Goldwasser was held at the military cemetery in his hometown of Nahariya in northern Israel.

Both funerals were broadcast live on national television.

Soldiers wearing purple berets of the Givati Brigade, an elite infantry unit of the Israeli army in which the two men served, carried the coffins with the Israeli flag stretched across it.

At Sgt Goldwasser's funeral, his widow Karnit, well-known for conducting a campaign to release her husband, paid him an emotional tribute.

"I had hoped that I would awake one day and say that this had been just a dream, a bad dream," she said.

Fatal wounds

The Israeli military feels an obligation to bring all its soldiers home. But Wednesday's exchange has been controversial in Israel because it freed convicted murderer Samir Qantar.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who attended both funerals, said Israel was committed to bringing home its captured soldiers.

If "the worst will happen to any of you", Israel "will make every possible and legitimate effort... to bring you home", he said at Mr Goldwasser's funeral.

Freed Lebanese prisoners on parade in Beirut
The five freed Lebanese prisoners took part in a victory parade in Beirut

Israeli officials said Sgt Goldwasser died of a chest wound from a rocket-propelled grenade when the vehicle he and Sgt Regev were in was ambushed, the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported.

Sgt Regev was also wounded by the grenade blast, before being shot in the head, the newspaper said.

A senior Hezbollah official told the BBC on Wednesday that the soldiers were captured alive. The official claimed they were injured in the cross-border attack, but that they subsequently died.

Meanwhile, the remains of the returned Lebanese and Palestinian fighters have been carried to Lebanon's capital Beirut in a triumphal cortege.

On Wednesday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah personally welcomed home the five militants freed by Israel.

At a huge rally in Beirut, Sheikh Nasrallah said the "age of defeats" was over.

From Hezbollah: Bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, and remains of other Israeli soldiers killed in Lebanon in 2006
From Israel: Five Lebanese prisoners, including Samir Qantar, and remains of some 200 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters

The BBC's Crispin Thorold in Beirut says the exchange is being treated as a triumph by supporters and opponents of Hezbollah alike.

Qantar had been in jail since 1979 for a deadly guerrilla raid in which he killed a four-year-old girl, her father and a policeman.

The girl's two-year-old sister was accidentally smothered by her mother as they hid during the raid.

The agreement has caused controversy in Israel, with some government ministers opposed to exchanging live Hezbollah prisoners for dead bodies.

The swap was brought about by two years of delicate mediation by German negotiators.

Until Wednesday, there had been no confirmation of their deaths as Hezbollah remained silent on the issue.

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