IDF prepares funerals for two reservists

Red Cross to post doctors on both sides of border; Olmert lambasts Ron Arad report as "unsatisfactory."

rosh hanikra 224 88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
rosh hanikra 224 88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
As families of the captive reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev held on to fading hopes that their sons might still be alive, the IDF on Monday began preparations for their burial. Expecting that the two men, abducted on the border by Hizbullah just over two years ago, could be returned to Israel in coffins at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, the army has made arrangements for their military funerals to be held on Thursday, one day after the planned prisoner swap with Hizbullah. IDF sources said it was likely that the funerals would be held in Regev and Goldwasser's hometowns of Kiryat Motzkin and Nahariya. In contrast to the IDF, the International Red Cross plans to post a doctor on either side of the border to provide treatment if needed, its spokeswoman Yael Segev-Eitan told The Jerusalem Post. "We have no indication of what to expect, so we have made preparations for either eventuality," Segev-Eitan said. "A doctor will wait on the Lebanese side of the border and another doctor will wait on the Israeli side," she said. "Our Lebanon mission has not received any orders yet." The International Red Cross, therefore, is preparing to "receive live men or, God forbid, the bodies" and transport them across the Rosh Hanikra border crossing on Wednesday, she said. As of Monday, no information regarding the state of the two men had been formally passed on to the families or friends of the two reservists. Goldwasser's parents have insisted their son is alive, even after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the cabinet two weeks ago that he believed that the two captured soldiers were dead. On Monday, however, his mother Miki said she had no comment for the press. Speaking from his Haifa home as the two-year wait to find out what happened to his son after he was captured by Hizbullah on July 12 whittles down to hours, Regev's father, Tzvi, said he was "tense" and "stressed." When told of the IDF's funeral preparations he said he believed that it was still unclear whether his son and Goldwasser were alive or dead, so the IDF is planning for both scenarios. In his heart, he said, he imagines only one scenario, that his son will return alive. "I am waiting for good news," he said. On Tuesday, upon his return from the Mediterranean summit in Paris, Olmert plans to ask the cabinet to vote again on the deal, which passed 22 to 3 on June 29. But according to sources both in Kadima and the Labor party, the vote is a formality. "Everyone wants to end this for the families," said National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor). Environmental Minister Gideon Ezra (Kadima) said he didn't even understand why a second vote was necessary. But speaking to reporters before leaving Paris Olmert said he did not know how he would vote. He attacked Hizbullah for failing to properly execute the first stage of the swap, which was to give Israel an 80-page report on the fate of the missing airman Ron Arad, who was shot down over Lebanon in 1986 and held by the Amal Shi'ite group until the night of May 4, 1988, when he disappeared. According to sources close to the prime minister, Olmert has said that the report was "unsatisfactory." The cabinet is to be briefed on the report, which was received by Israel on Saturday. It included two previously unseen photographs of Arad, three letters to his wife Tami, and fragments of a diary that he kept. Friends of Arad are insisting that Hizbullah has more. The report has been reviewed by the Mossad, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Military Intelligence, whose representatives will summarize the report at the Tuesday meeting and, according to defense officials, will claim that document does not resolve the mystery surrounding Arad's disappearance. "The Ron Arad report transferred by Hizbullah does not provide clear answers or solve the mystery surrounding his fate," Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the Labor Party faction in the Knesset on Monday. Friends of Arad have demanded that Hizbullah turn over additional original material by Arad they believe the group has in its possession before the deal is executed. But Barak said that despite disappointment regarding the quality of the report, the deal must go forward. "As defense minister, a former chief of staff and a former IDF commander, I repeat that we have a moral obligation to return Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser home." He added: "and even when they come home, we can't rest on our laurels; it will be a difficult and long negotiation to bring home [IDF soldier] Gilad Schalit [who was kidnapped by Hamas in June 2006]." On Monday, in advance of the swap, the IDF Rabbinate completed the exhumation of the 199 Lebanese and Palestinian combatants that will be returned to Lebanon as part of the exchange. The deal also includes Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar and four captured Hizbullah fighters. Kuntar killed Danny Haran and his four-year old daughter Einat as well as a policeman in 1979, in the coastal town of Nahariya. The Red Cross has had to ask its mission in Amman, Jordan, to send trucks to Israel in order to transfer the 190 Lebanese bodies Israel is planning to send back to Lebanon, the spokeswoman added. "There simply aren't enough trucks, so we needed reinforcements," she said. "We will then wait for orders from the IDF in order to begin identifying the names, and commence the transfer to Lebanon. This should happen on Wednesday, but things can change." Early Monday, a prison service van with tinted windows drove through the gates of the Ashmoret prison in central Israel, taking the four Hizbullah men to the nearby Hadarim penitentiary housing Kuntar. From Hadarim, the five prisoners are to be driven early Wednesday morning to an Israeli army base just south of the frontier. On Tuesday, Red Cross officials will begin interviewing Kuntar and the Lebanese prisoners at the Hadarim Prison, in order to ensure that they wish to return to Lebanon. "We will ask them if they have a reason to fear for their safety if they go back. Once they all tell us they want to go to Lebanon, we will transfer them," Segev-Eitan said. The prisoners will be taken to the border at Rosh Hanikra by the Israel Prison Service's Nachshon Unit. In addition to Kuntar, the other prisoners being released have been named as Khader Zidan, Mahar Kurani, Mahmad Sarur, and Hussein Souleiman, all captured on August 16, 2008, during the Second Lebanon War. The IDF Northern Command is planning to declare the Rosh Hanikra border crossing a closed military zone late Tuesday night to prevent press from reaching the area where the swap, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday, will take place. According to the current schedule, Israel will receive the bodies of Regev and Goldwasser and will begin the identification process, after which Kuntar and the four Hizbullah fighters will be transferred into Lebanon. If the remains of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev cannot be identified on the spot, they will be flown to Jerusalem for DNA testing before the swap is completed, the officials said. A DNA analysis is expected to take around three hours. Kuntar's Israeli lawyer, Elias Sabbagh, met with his client Sunday and said Kuntar was in high spirits ahead of his return home after nearly 30 years in an Israeli jail but did not wish to pass any comment to the media ahead of his release. "He wants to speak from his own country as a liberated prisoner," Sabbagh said. Herb Keinon, Gil Hoffman and AP contributed to this report.