Families of Lebanese prisoners to greet them at Beirut Airport
The family of the longest-held Lebanese prisoner, Samir Kuntar, who was to be released later Wednesday as part of a swap deal between Israel and Hezbollah, were preparing to meet their son after 30 years of imprisonment, reported dpa.
"Looking at the first pictures of Samir free after 30 years, which we saw on the television few moments ago, was very emotional," Kuntar's brother Bassam told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
"We are counting the moments. We will be waiting for him at Beirut International Airport, where all families of the four other prisoners who will be released will be present," Bassam said.
"No one will take his freedom from now on," said Bassam in a shaky voice.
Israel was set to free Kuntar and four other prisoners Wednesday. In exchange, Hezbollah said it will return two soldiers it captured in 2006 that set off 33 days of war between Israel and the militant group. Israel believes the soldiers are dead.
The Lebanese daily Al-Akbar, which is close to Hezbollah, said one of the two Israelis was definitely killed during his capture in a cross-border raid on July 12, 2006, but the condition of his comrade was uncertain.
Israel's cabinet gave the final go-ahead on Tuesday for the prisoner swap.
Kuntar was serving multiple life terms in Israel after he and three other Lebanese infiltrated Israel in 1979 and staged an attack in the northern coastal town of Nahariya. An Israeli court convicted Kuntar of killing a policeman and then kidnapping a man and his 4-year-old daughter and killing them outside their home.
Israel says Kuntar, who was 16 at the time, brutally beat the girl to death by bashing her head with a rifle. He denies this, saying the girl was killed in the crossfire. As the attack unfolded, the girl's mother hid inside a crawl space inside their home and accidentally smothered their crying 2-year-old daughter, fearing Kuntar would find them.
Two of his co-conspirators were killed in a shootout with police. The third was also convicted and sent back to Lebanon in the 1980s as part of a prisoner swap.
Kuntar's release has stirred a controversy in Israel from relatives of victims of the attack and others.
But in Lebanon, Kuntar will be received on Wednesday as a hero, along with four Hezbollah prisoners, who were captured during the July 2006 war.
After the prisoners cross back into Lebanon Wednesday morning, they will be taken to Beirut's airport for a reception with the president, prime minister and other high-ranking officials.
"I will be waiting for our prisoners at Beirut airport," President Michel Suleiman said.
For his part, House Speaker Nabih Berri, a close Shiite ally of Hezbollah, said "Wednesday is a historic moment for Lebanon and its resistance (Hezbollah). I can call this is a Victorious day," Berri was quoted as saying.
Lebanon has declared Wednesday a holiday to welcome the Lebanese prisoners slated to be freed by Israel.
A statement issued by Prime Minister Fouad Seniora said the shutdown includes public departments, businesses as well as municipalities and educational institutions.
As part of the swap deal, Israel also is expected to turn over the bodies of some 199 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters.