Convicted terrorist Samir Kuntar on Wednesday vowed to continue his 'resistance' against Israel, speaking at a Beirut rally welcoming his return and that of four Hezbollah men Israel released as part of a swap deal with the Lebanon-based guerilla group.
"I returned today from Palestine but believe me I will not return until I go back to Palestine," he told the roaring crowd. "I promise my people and dear ones in Palestine that I and my dear comrades in the valiant Islamic resistance are returning."
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, addressing the same rally, declared that there would be no more defeats at the hand of Israel.
"The age of defeats is gone, and the age of victories has come. This people, this nation gave a great and clear image today to its friends and enemies that it cannot be defeated," Nasrallah told tens of thousands of cheering supporters.
Shortly before being whisked away by bodyguards, Nasrallah said Hezbollah had achieved its two major goals since the end of the Second Lebanon War, to gain the release of all Lebanese prisoners in Israel and form a national unity government from the country's fractured political parties.
Large banners behind him read "divine victory" and "God's achievement by our hands." Earlier in the day, Hezbollah transferred to Israel Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the Israel Defense Forces soldiers kidnapped by its guerillas in a cross-border raid that sparked the 2006 war.
The Shi'ite leader kissed and hugged each of the five men in his first public appearance since January. Nasrallah, who only appeared for the third time in public since the war fearing Israeli assassination, later addressed the crowd from a secret location on a giant projection screen.
Earlier Wednesday evening, hundreds of spectators turned out to celebrate at a red carpet and honor guard welcome as the five made their first public appearance in the southern Lebanon border town of Naqoura.
The five, clad in combat fatigues, walked behind militants carrying the Palestinian, Lebanese and Hezbollah flags. They were greeted by Hezbollah officials and Muslim clerics as they stood at a podium.
President Shimon Peres denounced the red carpet treatment, drawing a comparison between the behavior of Israelis, mourning the two Israel Defense Forces soldiers whose bodies were returned after two years as part of the swap, and what he called Lebanese "dancing and drumming."
The Lebanese government declared Wednesday a national holiday to celebrate the "liberation of prisoners from the jails of the Israeli enemy and the return of the remains of martyrs."
In the exchange, Israel also handed over almost 200 bodies of Palestinian and Lebanese fighters.
Coffins containing the bodies of Regev and Goldwasser were delivered to the Israel-Lebanon border on Wednesday morning by Hezbollah. They were later delivered to an army camp in northern Israel, where their families were waiting.
On the Lebanese side of the Rosh Hanikra Israel-Lebanon border crossing, Hezbollah erected a platform upon which to honor Kuntar. Lebanese, Palestinian and Hezbollah flags were hung above the stage.
A former cellmate of Samir Kuntar, Jaber Weshah, who is now deputy director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, said: "Today is a true day of joy for all Palestinians and all freedom lovers across the world."
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