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Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah vowed Friday that attempts to abduct Israeli soldiers would continue, saying Hizbullah had no intention of laying down its arms.
Nasrallah delivered his statements before thousands of supporters in southern Beirut on Friday afternoon just hours after Israel returned the bodies of three Hizbullah gunmen killed by soldiers in Ghajar last Monday.
His statements served to strengthen recent security assessments in Israel that attempts by Hizbullah to abduct Israelis could intensify. Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze'evi (Farkash), head of the army's intelligence corps, warned that Hizbullah would spare no efforts in seeking out an opportunity to abduct Israeli civilians or soldiers.
"They [Hizbullah] will do everything to heat up the situation," he warned, speaking on Channel 1. Hizbullah's unsuccessful outcome in last Monday's clashes, when it failed to abduct soldiers and secure the release of prisoners in Israeli jails, has only fuelled the group's intention to intensify its efforts, he added.
Farkash assessed that Hizbullah would focus on trying to abduct Israelis located close to the border, or perhaps take advantage of businessmen seeking an easy way to make a deal. An attempt to abduct Israelis abroad requires a long period of planning, he noted.
"They will either fire artillery at areas where soldiers are deployed, or use sniper fire if the right situation arises," he said.
The recent travel advisory issued by the National Security Council's unit warning Israelis to exercise special caution abroad was based on current but not concrete information, he added.
Israel returned the bodies from Monday's clash following a Lebanese government request channeled by the International Red Cross. The move was described as a goodwill step towards securing calm on both sides of the border. A statement released by the IDF Spokesman declared that Israel continues to hold the Lebanese government responsible for thwarting all terror attacks originating in from Lebanon.
The coffins were carried by IDF soldiers and handed over to representatives of the International Red Cross at the Rosh Hanikra border crossing. From there, they were taken to the Nakoura border crossing and placed on ambulances in the presence of a UN monitoring team. Along the route leading to the Lebanese capital, black uniformed Hizbullah gunmen saluted the caskets.
Speaking before the masses as the coffins were carried through the streets, Nasrallah declared that it was the Hizbullah's right to abduct Israeli soldiers. "It is not a crime or a terror act. If we do not try to secure the return of prisoners, what is left? It is our right to abduct Israeli soldiers, and I am telling you that we must abduct Israeli soldiers and will continue trying."
While a number of prisoners were released in the last swap with Israel, many more remain incarcerated in Israeli jails, Nasrallah said.
"Who in the world cares for our prisoners? The only way we can learn of their fate is by abducting Israeli soldiers," he said.
Chants of "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" could be heard among the thousands who came to receive the coffins.
Nasrallah also criticized Israel, claiming it had incorrectly estimated the movement's present position. "[Israel] thinks we are suffering and are facing intense pressure and that our position is weakening."
But Israel, he said, has wrongly perceived the recent calm along the northern border and the lack of Hizbullah response as a result of its weakening position, he said. "The last confrontation was inevitable, and what was seen on the television [footage of the intensive shelling of IDF posts along Mount Dov and the Hizbullah gunmen infiltrating into the Israeli side of Ghajar] is only the beginning," he warned.
"Israel and the entire world should realize that Hizbullah will not change and will continue to defend the Lebanese people whatever the cost," he said.
One of the brothers of the dead gunmen declared on the Hizbullah Al Manar satellite station, "We hold our heads high and we wish to continue this course," he said.