Goldwasser, Regev to be laid to rest after 2 uncertain years

Examination reveals reservists killed in initial attack - Goldwasser likely killed by RPG, Regev shot in the head; IDF raises alert.

regev candles 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
regev candles 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
Following two years of uncertainty and a day after a long and multi-staged prisoner swap at the Rosh Hanikra border crossing, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser will finally be laid to rest in military cemeteries on Thursday. Goldwasser will be buried in Nahariya at 10 a.m. and Regev will be laid to rest at 2 p.m. in Haifa. Military rabbis at the Shraga Base, south of Nahariya, recited psalms next to the coffins throughout the night and will continue to do so until the bodies are taken for burial. The soldiers were given posthumous promotions following Wednesday's prisoner swap. Officials said an initial examination of the bodies, transferred by Hizbullah, revealed that both soldiers were killed during the assault on their border patrol two years ago, an attack that sparked the Second Lebanon War. Goldwasser, officials said, suffered a lethal wound to the chest from a rocket-propelled grenade and Regev appeared to have been shot in the head, perhaps when trying to escape their burning IDF Hummer. The bodies of Goldwasser and Regev were unloaded on the Lebanese side of the crossing early Wednesday morning, bringing an end to last-ditch hopes that one, or even both, men were alive. In the morning, the families gathered in their respective home towns; the Goldwassers in Nahariya and the Regevs in Kiryat Motzkin. Here, away from the media, they first heard the bitter news on television and then waited for final words from the army. With the exchange complete, defense officials said Wednesday evening that the IDF would raise its level of alert along the border out of concern that Hizbullah would use the period following the swap to strike at Israel in retaliation for February's assassination of arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus. The identification process took several hours due to the bodies' poor state. The final identification was done using an advanced imaging system, specially brought to Rosh Hanikra, that scanned the soldiers' teeth. DNA tests were also conducted at the crossing. Before the identification process could begin, sappers inspected the coffins to ensure that they were not booby-trapped. The process ended at close to 4 p.m. and both bodies were placed in coffins, draped in Israeli flags and carried by noncommissioned officers from the Golani Brigade to military trucks that transported them to the Shraga Base, where the families - as well as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi - paid their final respects. Also present was Lt.-Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz, chief of General Staff during the war, who had asked Ashkenazi for permission to attend the intimate ceremony. "My throat is dry, my eyes are tearing and my heart goes out to the families who struggled without a sign [of life], and didn't lose hope until the very last moment," Olmert said following the swap. "This is a day of removal of doubt. Certainly with regards to the fate of Udi [Ehud] and Eldad, may their memories be blessed, but also regarding the moral and ethical power of Israel." "By virtue of this power we decided to return the boys, even with the heavy price of releasing a despicable murderer," the prime minister said. "Nobody else will understand what every Israeli understands well: The concern over the fate of every one of our soldiers is the glue that binds us as a society, and it is this which allows us to survive in an region that is surrounded by enemies and terrorist organizations." Minutes after the bodies left Rosh Hanikra, Palestinian Liberation Front murderer Samir Kuntar and four Hizbullah guerrillas caught during the war arrived at the border and crossed into Lebanon, where they were met by the top Hizbullah leadership and thousands of supporters. After the five crossed into Lebanon, another coffin, containing body parts belonging to IDF soldiers from the Second Lebanon War, was transferred to Israel. The IDF then facilitated the transfer of close to 200 bodies of Lebanese and Palestinian gunmen to Lebanon. In Nahariya, Ehud's father-in-law, Omri Avni, told reporters: "It is a difficult moment for us the family and for me personally after two years of meetings, traveling, talking, writing and being in the process of trying to bring Udi back home." He said he wanted to thank Ofer Dekel, who had negotiated the deal. "Udi and Eldad are back. We wanted them to be back," Avni said. "I would like to thank the prime minister and the government of Israel for taking the right decision, which made the deal come through. We would like to thank the public who supported us for the last two years, it gave us courage and strength," Avni said, adding that the public's support had helped bring the two men home. Earlier, Shlomo Goldwasser, Ehud's father, also expressed appreciation for the support he received from the public. "In the last two years we discovered what a wonderful people [the Jewish nation] is," he said. "We would like to thank the entire Jewish nation. This nation is our answer to [Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah, who is trying to play with our emotions." Tzvi Regev, the father of Eldad, echoed Goldwasser: "I thank the Jewish nation, the media and all who have intervened on our behalf. We hoped Udi and Eldad would return alive; now we will have to adjust to a new reality." Yaakov Lappin, AP and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.