President Shimon Peres on Thursday visited the family homes of First Sergeant Major Eldad Regev, 26 and Sergeant Major Ehud Goldwasser, 31, and told the bereaved families, that "all of Israel is hurting with you."
The visits came shortly after funeral services were held for the two soldiers returned dead by Hezbollah on Wednesday, over two years after they were killed in a cross-border raid by the Lebanese militia, and their bodies spirited into Lebanon.
Upon arrival at the Goldwasser home, Peres embraced Ehud's parents and his widow Karnit Goldwasser and told them "I came here in the name of the people of Israel, to salute Udi (Ehud) and his courageous family, who fought an uncompromising and righteous struggle to bring their son home."
Peres praised the family for their handling of the last two years, saying "you conducted yourselves with humility and integrity and I am proud to be here today with you and tell you that all of Israel is hurting with you."
When asked about jubilant celebrations in Lebanon marking the return of convicted terrorist and child-killer Samir Kuntar, whose release was instrumental to the prisoner exchange, Peres said he is "proud to be part of a people with higher morals", adding, "there are people on the other side whose god is the god of terror. This is not our god, these are not our morals."
Ehud's parents Shlomo and Miki Goldwasser told Peres that during the past two years they "discovered a nation, a great and rare people, a nation of beautiful young people, Jewish communities that contribute. Our people as a whole enlisted to bring two of our sons home, and we have been showered by extraordinary support.
The parents added that seeing the hundreds of thousands of people who lined the side of the road to salute the fallen soldiers on their way home brought them to tears.
During Peres' visit to Eldad Regev's house, the fallen soldier's brother Benny praised Peres for signing the agreement to release Kuntar, saying it was the right thing to do and that the two years the family spent unsure of Eldad's fate was "extraordinarily difficult."
Peres told the Regev family that returning Eldad was a moral obligation of the people of Israel and that the thousands who saluted his coffin on his final journey home were a sign of "appreciation and love."
On Thursday afternoon, thousands of mourners gathered at the military cemetery in Haifa for the funeral of Regev. A similar number turned out earlier in the day as Goldwasser was laid to rest at the Nahariya military cemetery.
Goldwasser and Regev received formal military burials, with soldiers carrying their caskets draped in blue and white Israeli flags.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak was the first to eulogize Regev, after the prayers were recited and dirt spilled into the fallen soldier's grave.
The defense minister described Regev as an "impressive young man" with great love and commitment to his religion, and said: "In the name of a hurting state, we salute you."
In his eulogy, Barak reiterated that Israel was committed to bringing home its captured soldiers.
"This isn't the way we hoped to see Eldad and Udi [Ehud] back in Israel," the defense minister said, adding: "An entire nation pays tribute to courage shown by Regev family."
Barak also said that the case of missing Israeli navigator Ron Arad was still not closed, and vowed that the state would continue its efforts to determine his fate.
"We are left with no choice but to live by the sword in hostile region," the defense minister said. "Israel will not be deterred from waging fierce war against terrorism."
The next to speak was the commander of Regev's platoon, who eulogized his soldier as having "a great character, good heart, and warm smile," and was always prepared for any mission he was asked to undertake.
Regev's brother, Ofer, said he was proud of his country for "working with me to bring you home," adding: "I am proud of you, Eldad, my younger brother... a true patriot from front to back."
Goldwasser's widow: Our journey ends today
Sergeant Major Ehud Goldwasser was was laid to rest at 10 A.M. Thursday at the Nahariya cemetery.
Goldwasser's widow, Karnit, described her husband's funeral as bringing an end to a two-year journey: "For the last two years I have been speaking for two, Eldad and Udi, Regev and Goldwasser. The struggle to bring you home was joint from the beginning. For the first time, today, I let myself speak only of you."
Karnit spoke of her fallen husband as a man with "a calming and loving voice," and as a soldier who viewed army reserves as a privilege, and never hesitated to do his part for the country.
The day of her husband's abduction was "the morning when time stood still," Goldwasser said, adding: "Ehud will continue to be my inner voice, my full partner as I go on with my life."
Goldwasser also mentioned that her husband's funeral took place a day before his birthday. "One day before your birthday I ask, Toush, maybe time will allow the bleeding wounds to heal?" she said, referring to her late husband by his nickname. "Although I am without you, I will always be with you."
In his eulogy to the fallen soldier, Barak told mourners that during the two years since the abduction, Israel had been willing to "pay the highest price" for the soldiers' return.
"If the worst will happen to any of you," he told soldiers attending the funeral, "Israel will will make every possible and legitimate effort ... to bring you home.
"You are walking toward the fire with the clear knowledge that the army and the entire Israeli nation sent you to fight in its name and you are fighting for its life and the entire Israeli nation is indebted to you," Barak said.
He also said that Israel would not give up its fight for a deal to return Gilad Shalit, who has been held captive by Hamas since June 2006.
In eulogizing her son, Goldwasser's mother Miki said that Israel should view the war which began following Ehud's abduction as a victory, which brought out national strength and great qualities.
Coffins containing the remains of the Goldwasser and Regev were delivered to an army base in northern Israel on Wednesday evening, where their families were waiting to hold a private ceremony.
No definitive word about the soldiers' condition had been given from the time of their abduction on July 12, 2006 until their bodies were returned on July 16, 2008.
The coffins, draped in Israeli flags, were driven a short distance from the Rosh Hanikra crossing on the Israel-Lebanon border to the Shraga army base.
Five hours after the bodies were handed over, an Israeli forensics team positively identified them as those of Regev and Goldwasser.
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