MidEast Swap Triggers Controversy, Painful Memories

This morning at 9.40 Israel time, 24 months and five days after Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were abducted by Hezbollah in a cross-border raid that precipitated the Second Lebanon War, the bodies of the two reserve soldiers were returned to Israel.

Hezbollah officials arrived shortly after 9 a.m. at the Naqoura border crossing, which borders the Israeli town of Rosh Hanikra. Ignoring reporters' questions about the state of the two captives, they waited until they were surrounded by photographers and cameramen before dramatically unloading and displaying two black wooden coffins.

Hezbollah security official Wafik Safa then said, "We are handing over the two Israeli soldiers that were captured by the resistance ... and whose fate has been unknown until this moment. Now you know their fate."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) then transferred the two coffins to the Israeli side of the border, where forensic examiners identified the badly decomposed corpses.

While the IDF forensic examiner's report, issued shortly after the war, had concluded that the two men were highly unlikely to have survived the wounds they sustained during the July 12, 2006 raid, and the prime minister's office had reluctantly announced nearly one month ago that the two men were considered dead, Hezbollah had steadfastly refused to give any official word on their fate.

Thus, at 9.39 a.m., the Goldwasser and Regev families could still hope that their loved ones would emerge alive from the back of the Hezbollah truck. But by 9.40, that hope was extinguished.

Eldad Regev's father, Zvi, told Israeli Army Radio, "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." A commentator on Israel's Channel 10 news contemptuously referred to the Shi'ite militia's insistence on playing games until the last possible second as an "act of necrophilia."

As the image of the coffins was broadcast on Israeli television, a muted wail of grief was heard from the friends and relatives gathered outside the Regev home in Kiryat Motzkin. Eldad Regev's aunt, Hannah, collapsed and was attended to by paramedics.

In exchange for the bodies of the abducted soldiers, Israel agreed to transfer the bodies of 185 Palestinians and Lebanese militants who had been killed by the IDF while attempting to infiltrate Israel, to release four Hezbollah militants who had been captured during the Second Lebanon War, and to release Israel's most notorious political prisoner - the Lebanese Druze, Samir Kuntar.