Israeli soldiers 'seriously injured' in kidnapping that sparked war

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The Independent Online

The two soldiers whose seizure by Hizbollah guerrillas triggered the 35-day Lebanon war this summer were seriously wounded in the incident, the Israeli military confirmed for the first time yesterday. The disclosure, after official censorship was lifted on the information about their condition, will fuel fears that the two men, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, may have died from the wounds they sustained in the cross-border attack on 12 July.

Three other soldiers were killed in the same incident. Hizbollah has consistently refused to give details about the fate of the two soldiers ahead of the prisoner release they are demanding.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, has meanwhile said that he will not contemplate a prisoner exchange until he has a sign that the two men are alive. Hizbollah have even refused to give information on the prisoners to the International Red Cross.

The reticence of Hizbollah over the condition of its captives is in start contrast to Hamas, whose Gaza militants were among those who seized the Israeli Cpl Gilad Shalit three weeks earlier. Hamas has repeatedly said that Cpl Shalit is alive and being treated well.

Mr Olmert has made it clear publicly that he is ready to release prisoners in return for Cpl Shalit's release and Egyptian-brokered negotiations have been taking place for weeks on a possible deal.

Cpl Shalit's father has declined to confirm a report in an Arab statement that he may visit Gaza to talk to Hamas and Fatah about his son.

According to Israeli media, a military report compiled during the Lebanon war about the cross-border raid said that the two men had been severely injured - one critically - and that every indication was that they needed urgent medical treatment. The report was given to the Regev and Goldwasser families at the time.

A statement issued by the military yesterday said that it was was still working on the assumption that the men were alive and the Israeli Prime Minister's office has said that every effort is being made to secure their released.

Mr Olmert said on Tuesday during a visit to the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi that the government believed the two men were alive.

But earlier in the week, when asked why he had agreed to the ceasefire which ended the war on 14 August, Mr Olmert cited as one of the several factors behind the decision the fact that he did not even know whether the men were alive.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews yesterday responded to a campaign by Mr Goldwasser's family by calling for a grass roots campaign in the UK to secure the release of all three soldiers. The board said Karnit, the wife of Mr Goldwasser, a graduate of the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, had made an "emotional appeal" at a recent meeting with them. It quoted Mrs Goldwasser as saying: "We still haven't heard where they are or even if they are alive. We have no choice except to appeal to everyone we meet to make sure that our voices are being heard."