Israel frees Hizballah spy, gets soldiers’ remains

Monday, June 02, 2008 |  staff writer

When Israel handed over a convicted Hizballah spy to Lebanon on Sunday, officials were surprised when the Islamic terrorist group in turn handed over a coffin-like box containing body parts of Israeli soldiers it says were killed in the 2006 Lebanon War.

The box was sent to the medical examiner’s office for analysis, but it also contained the dog tag of Sergeant-Major Ron Mashiah, who was killed in a helicopter crash during the Second Lebanon War.

The Israel Defense Forces has said that 20 of the soldier who died in that war were not buried intact. The military has precise documentation of the body parts missing and DNA, so it can prove if any of the body parts are a match.

Israeli officials said they were unaware that there would be an exchange when they handed over the spy. Pundits called the Hizballah ‘gesture’ a possible signal that a larger prisoner exchange could be in the works. Rumors had been circulating for the past week that an exchange is possible for the two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, captured in a 2006 cross-border raid whose fates are still unknown.

Israeli authorities released Nasim Nisr, an Israeli of Lebanese descent, after he completed a six-year sentence for spying on Israel. Nisr, 39, was born in Lebanon to a Jewish Lebanese mother and a Muslim father. Because of his Jewish ancestry, he qualified for Israeli citizenship and moved to Israel.

As Nasser arrived in Lebanon, he was received with a military parade. Doves and yellow Hizballah balloons were released in the air.

Israel is holding seven Lebanese prisoners, including Samir Kantar, who has been in an Israeli prison since he was convicted of killing an Israeli family in 1979. He is serving multiple life sentences for infiltrating northern Israel and killing four Israelis — a 28-year-old man, the man's 4-year-old daughter and two Israeli policemen. Kantar repeatedly smashed the young girl's head against a rock and crushed her skull with a rifle butt. Her mother, while trying to stifle the cries of her other daughter, accidentally smothered the 2-year-old.

Israel has traded hundreds of prisoners is return for a single captive soldier. But Boaz Ganor, a terrorism expert in Israel, said this provides a moral victory for the enemy and provides no incentive to keep prisoners of war alive.

"I think it is a mistake to release living prisoners for dead ones," he said. "I think this should be an ironclad rule, especially when we are talking about an arch-terrorist like Kantar ... I think Israel should not cross this line."

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