(AFP) – Jul 17, 2008
AABEY, Lebanon (AFP) — Samir Kantar, Lebanon's longest serving prisoner who was freed by Israel in a swap, said on Thursday he had no regrets over the triple murder three decades ago that put him behind bars.
"I haven't for even one day regretted what I did," he told AFP as he arrived at his family home in the Druze village of Aabey, southeast of Beirut, where he was given a hero's welcome.
"On the contrary I remain committed to my political convictions."
Kantar, who turns 46 on July 22, was just 17 when he was sentenced to five life terms for a 1979 triple murder in one of the most notorious attacks in Israeli history.
He was convicted of killing a police officer, a civilian and a four-year-old child whose head he was accused of bashing with his rifle butt, in a raid in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya.
"I feel enormous joy because I have returned to the ranks of the resistance and to my family," he said with defiance, dressed in a Hezbollah military uniform.
People showered Kantar with rice and flower petals as he neared his humble home, where two men sacrificed a lamb in his honour.
"A 16-year-old is different to a 46-year-old but his facial expressions and his smile are the same," his step-mother Siham Kantar, 71, told AFP.
Druze leaders Walid Jumblatt and Talal Arslan as well as Labour Minister Mohamed Fneish, a member of Hezbollah, took part in the ceremonies in Aabey, lauding Kantar as a hero of the resistance.
He was released by Israel along with four Hezbollah fighters on Wednesday in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers captured in a deadly cross-border raid by the Shiite guerrilla group two years ago.
Funerals were held for the two soldiers on Thursday.
Their capture sparked a 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel in which more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and over 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed.
"We are very happy on this beautiful day, this is a victory for Lebanon and the national resistance," said Yusra Khaddaj, 39, as she stood with her three young daughters on the road leading to Aabey.
"Samir Kantar is the son of all the Lebanese," she added.
One banner along the road leading to Aabey read: "From Palestine, to Iraq to Lebanon, the resistance is victorious."
Israel on Wednesday also handed over the remains of 199 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters killed in recent years.
Hundred of supporters threw rose petals and rice and some cheered as four tractor-trailers carrying the bodies arrived in Beirut from the border town of Naqura where Wednesday's swap took place.
The mothers of some of the Palestinian fighters killed in battles with Israeli troops during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war wept and tried to touch the coffins draped in Lebanese or Palestinian flags.
Other family members carried pictures of their missing sons, as the bodies of the fallen fighters were unloaded from the vehicles into a schoolyard where a communal prayer was to be held for them.
Hezbollah has dubbed the swap "the Radwan operation" after the alias used by notorious Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughnieh, who was killed in a bombing in Syria in February blamed on Israel.
Kantar visited Mughnieh's tomb in Hezbollah's stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut before heading to his village.
His release and return to a jubilant hero's welcome in Lebanon drew condemnation in Israel, where security officials warned he was now a target for killing.
"Every terrorist who committed an act of terror against Israel, especially someone like Kantar, who killed a little child and two other people, is a target," one official told AFP.
Iran, which backs Hezbollah, said the prisoner swap was an achievement both for the guerrilla movement and the Lebanese people.
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