Hundreds of jubilant Lebanese eagerly awaited on Thursday, July 17, the return of Samir Kantar, Lebanon’s longest serving prisoner in Israel.
"We are very happy on this beautiful day," Yusra Khaddaj, 39, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) as she stood with her three young daughters on the road leading to Aabey, Kantar’s home town located some 30 kilometers (18 miles) southeast of Beirut.
"This is a victory for Lebanon and the national resistance.
"Samir Kantar is the son of all the Lebanese," she added, holding a bowl of rice and flower petals she planned to throw on his convoy.
A folklore band was also on hand to take part in the celebrations.
"From Palestine, to Iraq to Lebanon, the resistance is victorious," read one banner along the road leading to Aabey.
Another said "Our prisoners are our promise," in reference to Hizbullah’s vow to free Kantar and other prisoners held in Israel.
Kantar and four other fighters were released Wednesday as part of a prisoner swap deal between Hizbullah and Israel.
He has been in Israeli jails since 1979 serving multiple life terms for his part in a deadly attack on an Israeli town.
Kantar’s release and return to Lebanon received a hero’s welcome.
"Thank God we arrived to this day; this day of victory, never to return to a day of defeat. Thank God who gave me strength… and who always gave me hope in the moments of weaknesses," Kantar told cheering crowds.
"Thank God who gave me the ability to endure, challenge and face imprisonment. Thank God (who) resurrected in this country a resistance, this great Islamic resistance."
Meanwhile, trucks bedecked with flowers transported the remains of 199 Arab fighters from the border town of Naqura to the Lebanese capital where a ceremony was to be held in their honor before they would be handed over to their families.
Supporters threw rose petals and rice and some cheered as the makeshift hearses carrying the bodies of the Lebanese and Palestinian fighters passed on its journey to Beirut.
The mothers of some of the Palestinian fighters killed in battles with Israeli troops during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war wept as they accompanied the cortege and sought to touch the coffins draped in Lebanese or Palestinian flags.
The remains were handed over by Israel as part of the swap deal with Hizbullah.
Funerals were held for the two soldiers in Israel on Thursday.
Their capture sparked a devastating 34-day Israeli onslaught in Lebanon, in which over 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and over 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed.
(IslamOnline.net and news agencies)