Shlomo Goldwasser: Gov't must talk to Hezbollah as U.K. did Iran
Iran official: Iran received letter of apology from Blair before captured sailors were released.
Israel should learn from the British government and hold direct talks with the captors of its seized soldiers, the father of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Ehud Goldwasser said Thursday following the release of 15 British sailors seized two weeks ago by Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf.
"I know that they want to make deals through direct one-on-one talks, without mediations in the middle," Shlomo Goldwasser told the 150 demonstrators who had gathered in Tel Aviv as part of a cross-Israel journey in support of releasing the captive IDF soldiers.
"It doesn't interest me that according to the law Hezbollah is defined as a terror organization," Goldwasser said. "We can talk to Hezbollah in order to return our sons home."
The cross-country demonstration began last month in Eilat and will end in northern Israel, near where Goldwasser and his fellow reservist Eldad Regev were captured by Hezbollah guerillas last July.
An adviser to Iran's top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Thursday that Iran had received a letter of apology from Britain before the release of 15 military personnel, state television reported.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards seized the British sailors and marines on March 23, and accused them of entering Iran illegally, a charge Britain denied. The 15 Britons were released on Wednesday and arrived back in England on Thursday.
Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser on international affairs to Khamenei, said Iran had achieved its "objectives" in the political standoff with Britain over the arrests.
"Iran set a condition that Britain accepts there was a violation (of Iranian waters) and gives apologies. On Tuesday we received a letter of apology," Velayati was quoted as saying.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Wednesday that Britain had taken a measured approach to the incident "not negotiating but not confronting either."
Britain angered Iran earlier in the crisis by seeking and securing the support of the United Nations and European Union for its cause. The United States had also backed Britain.
Released British soldiers arrive at London's Heathrow airportThe flight carrying 15 British military personnel freed by Iran after a tense two-week stand-off arrived back in England on Thursday.
British Airways Flight 6634 from Tehran touched down at Heathrow at 11:02 GMT.
After a 20-minute delay, the group, clad once more in military uniforms, disembarked and posed for pictures before transferring to two waiting military helicopters to be flown to a military base at Chivenor in Devon, 200 miles southwest of London, for a private meeting with their families and debriefing.
Addressing reporters at 10 Downing St. as the freed soldiers arrived, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said no negotiations were conducted, and no deals made in order to secure the captured troops' release.
They 15 arrived Thursday morning at Tehran's Mehrabad International Airport in a convoy of sedans that drove directly to the presidential VIP section of the airport. The convoy was escorted by several cars belonging to the elite Revolutionary Guards.
Their flight departed at about 8:30 A.M. local time, 30 minutes behind schedule.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a news conference broadcast round the world on Wednesday he had decided to forgive and free the 15 sailors and marines even though Britain was not "brave enough" to admit they had strayed into Iran's territory.
The peaceful end to the standoff, which began when Tehran seized the 15 in the Shatt al-Arab waterway between Iraq and Iran on March 23, prompted a drop in oil prices from recent highs. U.S. stock futures and the dollar rose in relief.
Iranian officials whisked the 15 through the airport building to the plane, keeping them away from journalists, witnesses said.
A British diplomat, asking not to be named, said the Britons would travel in the business class section and that no one apart from the 15 and people accompanying them would be allowed in that part of the plane.
"The 15 will be accompanied by three or four British embassy staff and there will be no access for the media until the plane reaches Britain," said the diplomat.
A 57-year-old Iranian businessman, one of at least two people downgraded to economy class to ensure the business section was only for the Britons, said: "We understood the reason. We are very happy this [standoff] has been concluded."
At his news conference, Ahmadinejad said: "Under the influence of the Muslim Prophet, (Iran) forgives these 15 people and gives their freedom to the British people as a gift."
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the release of the 15.
"Throughout we have taken a measured approach, firm but calm, not negotiating but not confronting either," Blair told reporters. "To the Iranian people I would simply say this: We bear you no ill will."
The dispute centered on where the Britons were when they were seized. Britain says they were in Iraqi waters on a routine United Nations mission. Tehran says they strayed into its territorial water.