Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz met with the families of kidnapped IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev on Sunday and broke the news to them that the cease-fire in Lebanon would be implemented without their sons returning home.
Diplomatic officials had promised the families in the past that Israel would insist on Goldwasser and Regev returning home from Lebanon along with the rest of the IDF in any agreement to end the fighting. But Olmert said he had to make a difficult decision to allow the war to end.
"I decided that we shouldn't condition the entire cease-fire on getting the kidnapped soldiers back," Olmert said in the cabinet meeting. "We were not willing to remain in the mud of Lebanon and not allow the people in the North to return to their homes, nor were we willing to give Hizbullah the power to veto the cease-fire by refusing to release the soldiers. As difficult as it was, this is what I told the soldiers' families."
The cease-fire resolution that passed in the United Nations over the weekend and in the cabinet on Sunday calls for the unconditional return of the soldiers but not in an operative clause. Olmert said it did not matter what kind of clause it was and the Lebanese government would be held accountable if the soldiers were not released.
Olmert said he would appoint a senior official to conduct negotiations to bring about the release of Goldwasser, Regev and Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped in Kerem Shalom.
At a press conference in the Foreign Ministry with European Union foreign minister Javier Solana, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that she would not rest until the soldiers returned home. Solana said he was in contact with the families and was working hard to bring the soldiers back to their families alive.
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said the failure to bring about the soldiers' release was one of the reasons that he abstained instead of voting in favor of the cease-fire proposal in the cabinet meeting.
Goldwasser's father Shlomo said that Olmert told him Israel would conduct negotiations to exchange Lebanese prisoners for the release of his son, but did not state with whom such talks would be held.
Shlomo said he supported the cease-fire and had always believed that his son would only be returned through negotiations.
"It's clear to me that such talks would happen after a cease-fire agreement," he said. "This is just the first step in the process.
According to Goldwasser, Olmert explained the details of the cease-fire and said that he would do everything possible to bring the captive soldiers home.
The conversation went as expected given the circumstances, Goldwasser said.