Israel's cabinet on Sunday voted 22-3 in favor of conducting a prisoner swap with Lebanon's Hizballah terrorist militia that will see two abducted Israeli reserve soldiers returned in exchange for a Lebanese terrorist who brutally murdered 5 Israelis during a 1979 infiltration.
As part of the German-mediated deal Israel will also receive information regarding Israeli airman Ron Arad, captured during a mission over Lebanon in 1986, as well as the remains of several soldiers killed during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Hizballah will also receive four of its fighters being held by Israel since the recent war, as well as the bodies of dozens of killed terrorists.
The deal was approved by the cabinet despite firm opposition from leading military officials, who warned that swapping prisoners with Hizballah would only encourage the group to abduct more Israelis.
Also troubling to many was Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's announcement at the start of the cabinet meeting that he concurred with assessments that the two Israeli reservists are dead, meaning that Israel is about to free one of the most vicious terrorists it is holding in exchange for corpses. Despite his position on the two reservist's being dead, Olmert urged his ministers to support the exchange.
Samir Kuntar, the Lebanese terrorists to be released as part of the swap, is serving four life sentences for his role as leader of a terrorist cell that infiltrated northern Israel in 1979. After entering the Jewish state, the group found itself in the coastal city of Nahariya, where it quickly killed two on-duty police officers who identified the terrorists.
Kuntar and his men then entered the home of a local family and took the father and his four-year-old daughter down to the nearby beach, where Kuntar crushed the little girls head with the butt of his rifle and a large stone in front of her horrified father, who was then shot in the chest.
Back in the house, Smadar Hara, the only member of the family to survive the attack, accidentally smothered her infant daughter as they hid terrified in a closet.
Kuntar repeatedly stated during his time in jail that he remained proud of what he had done. In Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, Kuntar has risen to celebrity status. His brother told the Associated Press on Sunday that Kuntar's return will be marked by celebrations across Lebanon.
Hizballah leaders said that their success in winning Kuntar's freedom was evidence of the group's strength and justified its continued existence as an independent armed militia.
In related news, an Arab newspaper reported on Sunday that Hamas has rejected an Israeli offer to release 450 Palestinian terrorists in return for an Israeli soldier being held in the Gaza Strip.
According to the newspaper, Hamas now wants Israel to set free no fewer than 1,000 jailed terrorists in exchange for Gilad Shalit, who was abducted in a cross-border raid by Hamas and two smaller terror groups in June 2006.
Hamas also wants Israel to include jailed Palestinian terror leader and lawmaker Marwan Barghouti, touted as many as a potential successor to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.