Newly-freed terrorist Samir Kuntar continued his post-incarceration career this week with an appearance at the Syrian-Israeli border on the Golan Heights. Earlier in the day Kuntar had received Syria’s Order of Merit (or according to other reports, an honorary title as sergeant) from President Bashar Assad in a meeting in Damascus. At the Golan border Kuntar, a Lebanese Druze, was backed by hundreds of Syrian Druze and shouted to a few hundred Israeli Druze: “I’m telling you, President Assad will soon wave the Syrian flag over the Golan.”
Kuntar was released by Israel in July in an exchange for the bodies of the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah two years before that, a kidnapping that sparked the Second Lebanon War. He had been jailed since 1979 for murdering three people as part of a terrorist attack in the Israeli coastal town of Nahariya.
Some Israelis were appalled at the swap — which included four other live terrorists and the bodies of two hundred others along with Kuntar — particularly given the special heinousness of Kuntar’s crimes. In Nahariya back on April 22, 1979, after killing a policeman, he took a man and his four-year-old daughter hostage down to the beach, shot the man dead in front of the daughter, then killed the girl by smashing her head on the rocks.
Assad feted him on Monday with the words: “His being here with us and his determination to promote Arab rights, despite everything he’s been through, has turned him into a symbol of the struggle for freedom across the Arab world and the whole world.” But it was just the latest in the encomiums Kuntar has garnered since being freed.
It started back on July 16, the day of his release, when Lebanon awarded him a state ceremony at Beirut Airport where he was officially received by President Michel Suleiman, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
The festivities continued the next day in his home village of Aabey where Walid Jumblatt, a fellow Druze and leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, and Mohammad Fneish, labor minister and Hezbollah official, sang his praises to the crowd. At the time Israeli Middle East scholar Barry Rubin wrote that “No one in the Arabic-speaking world will say a single negative word about Kuntar’s deed or his being made a hero, despite a small liberal minority’s disgust.”