Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser July 14, 2006 (AP)
Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser Photo by AP
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Israeli bombardment killed two Israel Defense Forces soldiers whose capture by Hezbollah began the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and whose bodies were returned to Israel two years later, a Lebanese minister said on Wednesday.

Hezbollah handed over the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in a prisoner exchange but never said how they died.

Israeli officials have said they were badly wounded, one of them fatally, when they were captured by the Shi'ite militant group in a cross-border raid in July 2006.

Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, publishing his memoirs of the 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel in Lebanon's al-Safir newspaper, quoted a Hezbollah official as saying the two Israelis were killed by Israeli bombing.

"There is another subject which only a very few brothers know about, and which no one other than us will know about later," he quoted Hussein al-Khalil as saying on August 3, 2006, roughly halfway through the conflict.

"Israeli bombardment in recent days led to the death of the two Israeli prisoners."

He said the soldiers' captors had taken every precaution to avoid them being killed "but the expansion (of the area) of the bombardment and the use of big rockets ... led to this".

The minister, who belongs to the Shi'ite Amal movement allied to Hezbollah, quoted Hussein al-Khalil as saying:

"It's ironic, Israel kills the prisoners on whose behalf it declared war. From our part, we will continue the battle of negotiations as if nothing had happened."

The IDF dismissed what it called "blatant fabrications" as psychological warfare.

"The Hezbollah is responsible for the kidnapping of the IDF soldiers in 2006 and, as such, is responsible for the tragic results leading to their deaths," it said in a statement.

A former aide to Ehud Olmert, Israeli prime minister at the time of the 2006 abduction and war, said claims that Israel killed its own soldiers was "utter nonsense".

"The forensic details we gathered at the site of the abductions made clear that Goldwasser and Regev were seriously wounded on the spot, at least one of them fatally," the aide said.

"This was confirmed by intelligence information that we subsequently gathered, and by pathological examinations upon recovery of the bodies, which Hezbollah had kept frozen. Their wounds corresponded to an ambush on the ground, not an aerial bombing."

The bodies of the two Israeli soldiers were exchanged in July 2008 in a prisoner swap for five Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.

Among the released captives was Samir Kuntar, who had been Israel's longest-serving prisoner and whom Israelis revile for his part in a 1979 Palestinian terrorist attack.

The release of the Lebanese prisoners, said by Hezbollah to be the last held in Israel, closed a file that had motivated repeated attempts by Shi'ite guerrillas over the past quarter of a century to capture Israelis to use as bargaining counters.