Thousands attended Israeli funerals on Thursday for the two fallen soldiers returned in a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah. Their burials ended the two-year campaign for their homecoming.
Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser's remains were returned by Hezbollah Wednesday in exchange for five live Lebanese prisoners and the remains of some 200 Arab fighters.
"I stand here today sad, crying, but proud; proud of my country that fought with me to bring you back, proud of every citizen who thought of you, Eldad, as his brother," Ofer Regev, brother of slain soldier Eldad, said at his funeral. Regev was 26 when he was taken.
"I'm proud to belong to those who love and not to those who hate. And to the entire nation who paid a high price with clenched teeth, they know that camaraderie has no price," he said.
It was Regev and Goldwasser's capture in 2006 that sparked a monthlong war with Lebanon. Whether they died in captivity or during the raid in which they were seized is unclear.
Earlier in the day, mourners buried Goldwasser, who was 31 at the time of his capture.
His widow, Karnit Goldwasser, told mourners that the funeral took place a day before Goldwasser's birthday.
"One day before your birthday I ask, Toush, maybe time will allow the bleeding wounds to heal?" she said, referring to her fallen spouse by his nickname. "Although I am without you, I will always be with you."
Since their capture, Karnit led a two-year campaign to get her husband and Regev released. The effort turned into a nationwide crusade in Israel, replete with bumper stickers, billboards and frequent radio and TV spots.
Although the two IDF reservists were believed to be dead, there was no proof until Wednesday when their remains were returned by Hezbollah in black coffins.
Meanwhile, in Lebanon, the five terrorists released as part of the prisoner swap prayed at the grave of slain Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh.
Supporters greeted them with enthusiasm, showering the men with rice as they placed wreaths at the grave. The terrorists vowed to keep fighting Israel.
"We swear by God ... to continue on your same path and not to retreat until we achieve the same stature that God bestowed on you," said Samir Kantar, who had been the longest-held Lebanese prisoner in Israel until his release Wednesday.
Kantar was convicted in 1979 of killing a father and his 4-year-old daughter. The girl's 2-year-old sister was accidentally smothered by her mother, who held her hand over the toddler's mouth to stifle her cries while the two hid in a crawl space. An Israeli policeman was also killed.
Some in Israel are concerned about the lopsided prisoner swap and have raised questions about its nation's policy of bringing back its soldiers, dead or alive, at any cost.
Critics contend that Israel's uneven exchanges with terrorist groups only lead to more kidnappings.
Source: The Associated Press, The Jerusalem Post