Families of missing soldiers briefed ahead of Hezbollah deal
Regev and Goldwasser families say they have no new information, assuming sons are still alive.
The families of kidnapped soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were summoned for a briefing on Wednesday with Ofer Dekel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's negotiations coordinator, in the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Earlier, Dekel arrived from Berlin, where he met with German officials who are mediating contacts with Hezbollah. The families will be updated on the latest developments in the talks.
Shlomo Goldwasser, Ehud's father, told Haaretz not to expect any dramatic developments before this weekend.
Although the outlines of the prisoner swap now being brokered with Hezbollah seems to indicate Israel's assessment that Regev and Goldwasser are dead, their families have received no official word.
Regev and Goldwasser's parents told Haaretz and other news outlets in recent interviews that they have no new information, and as far as they are concerned their sons are alive unless proven otherwise.
Israeli defense officials said this week that the deal for the return of Regev and Goldwasser could be concluded toward the end of next week. Dekel is to report to Olmert on Wednesday on progress in his talks with the German mediator Gerhard Konrad. Several questions remain to be resolved, and therefore no date has been set for the inner cabinet to discuss the issue.
On Monday bulldozers were seen at work in the cemetery for enemy dead in the Galilee, which may mean that preparations are under way to exhume bodies of Hezbollah fighters.
In the previous prisoner exchange in 2004, a similar problem arose regarding the fate of the three soldiers abducted at Shaba Farms in October 2000 - Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham and Omar Sueid. Then, too, Hezbollah refused to divulge any information to Israel on the condition of the three soldiers. However, at an advanced stage of talks over a swap, Israel learned that the three were dead and the situation was treated as such.
The present deal is somewhat different. Evidence collected at the scene of the July 12, 2006 abduction near Moshav Zarit on the Lebanese border showed that Regev and Goldwasser were seriously injured during the incident. A medical report stated that it was highly likely that one of the two was dead. No sign of life has ever been received from them, which may mean that they were indeed killed in the course of the abduction. But lacking proof, no decision has been made to declare them dead and no such assessment given to the families.
However, the families may not have been informed because given the media spotlight on them, it would be difficult to keep such information secret for even for a short time. If official word leaked that the terrorist Samir Kuntar was being swapped - as is reportedly under discussion - without receiving live prisoners in return, public criticism would make it difficult to approve the deal.
Kuntar's lawyer, Elias Sabbagh, told Army Radio Monday, "All the signs and indications are that a deal is coming together," but cautioned he had not heard anything official.
"We know that a deal to release the prisoners may be under completion," Lebanese political leader Michel Aoun, who is allied with Hezbollah, said Tuesday in Beirut. He gave no further details.