Convicted murderer is not considered a 'hero' in Lebanon, some say

Kuntar confident he will be part of any Israel-Hizbullah prisoner swap.

Kuntar 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
Kuntar 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
Samir Kuntar, the Lebanese Druse prisoner serving four life sentences for the deaths in 1979 of a father, his two daughters and a policeman in Nahariya, and his family are certain that he will be included in any prisoner swap between Israel and Hizbullah, his Israeli lawyer said. "What I can say with certainty is that we are sure, and we know... that there will not be a deal without Samir," attorney Yamen Zedan, who has represented Kuntar for nearly six months, told The Jerusalem Post. "That we know 100 percent." Zedan said he was not involved with any negotiations for Kuntar's release, but that he and his client were confidant about his status - partly from conversations the attorney has had with Kuntar's family in Lebanon. "We are in contact with his parents, and [Kuntar] himself, at least, believes in the words of [Hizbullah leader] Hassan Nasrallah." Nasrallah has promised to make Kuntar, who has been imprisoned for 29 years, part of any future prisoner swap with Israel and a flurry of media reports in recent weeks have suggested that a deal between the two sides is near. Zedan said he was hopeful his client would be released by the end of the month, as reported by Lebanese media, but said he had no information concerning his release. Kuntar, a member of the Palestine Liberation Front, and four others sailed from south Lebanon in April, 1979, to Nahariya, where they murdered police officer Eliahu Shahar after he stumbled upon the gang. After breaking into the apartment of a family, some of the men took 28-year-old Danny Haran and his four-year-old daughter, Einat, hostage. After a shoot-out ensued between the gunmen and police, Kuntar shot Haran and threw his body into the sea, then bashed Einat's head on rocks and with the butt of his rifle. Haran's two-year-old daughter was accidentally smothered by her mother while they hid in a crawl space above the couple's bedroom. Kuntar's brother Bassam, an editor of a Beirut-based newspaper, declined Sunday to comment to the Post, noting that it was "forbidden by our national law" to talk to an Israeli newspaper. In February, Kuntar vowed in a letter to Nasrallah, published in the Palestinian Authority newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadida, to continue his struggle. The letter, in which Kuntar expressed his condolences over the killing of Hizbullah military chief Imad Mughniyeh, was first exposed in Israel by Palestinian Media Watch. "My oath and pledge is that my only place will be on the front lines, which is soaked in the sweat of your giving and the blood of those who are most dear and that I will continue down the path until complete victory," he wrote, according to the Palestinian newspaper. As a security prisoner at the Hadarim Prison near Netanya, Kuntar has no telephone contact with family members, Zedan said. In the last several years, he has also been denied personal visits. Officials with the International Committee for the Red Cross, who have previously coordinated prisoner exchanges between Israel and Hizbullah, said they have not been notified about any imminent prisoner exchange involving Kuntar or any other Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails. "We did not receive any information regarding an exchange, or a development on this issue," said Beirut-based spokesman Christian Cardon. "Like last time, we stand ready for it, to facilitate, in case it happens." Exactly how popular Kuntar is in Lebanon is up for some debate. Some say Kuntar is portrayed as a hero in much of the Lebanese press, particularly the Hizbullah-owned Al-Manar television station. "But I am not sure how many people feel it was worth the 2006 war for him," one Lebanese-born observer noted. "This is a subject that was debated in Lebanon at the beginning of the 2006 war, but then died down after the extent of the Israeli attack became clearer." Others argue that Kuntar is not considered a national hero, despite the fanfare he has received in certain political circles. "Nobody had heard about him until Hizbullah made it an issue," Timur Goksel, a former senior adviser/spokesman of UNIFIL who is now retired in Lebanon, told reporters Sunday. "He is a Druse mercenary working for Palestinians, like thousands of other paid militias. You still don't see any articles, calls, etcetera for his release." Hizbullah will make "much fuss" about it when he is released and the group's supporters will see it as yet another success against Israel, he said, "but it won't mean much in Lebanon." Meanwhile, several pages - both for and against Kuntar's release - have been set up on the social networking site Facebook. One of the sites, which has more than 1,000 members, quotes Khouloud Saleh of Lebanon, who writes: "Soon Samir, soon you will be out... wow... we are counting the minutes and hours." Another Facebook page, however, quotes Shlomo Nasser of New York, who writes: "Samir Kuntar smashed a four-year-old girl's head with the butt of his rifle, killing her. Regardless what cause he is fighting for, he is a savage and people who support him have no values."