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Five Prisoners Freed by Israel Welcomed in Lebanon


Hundreds of people in Lebanon have welcomed the arrival of five former prisoners in the capital, Beirut, following their release from Israel as part of a prisoner exchange.

The five arrived at Beirut's airport Wednesday for an official red carpet welcome from Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and other government and religious leaders.

The leader of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, made a rare public appearance at the rally in Beirut to greet the former prisoners. He said the age of defeat is over, and the time of victory is now.

As part of the prisoner exchange, Hezbollah handed over the remains of two Israeli soldiers earlier in the day. They were captured in a cross-border attack in 2006.

The soldiers' fates had long been uncertain, but it was only Wednesday that Hezbollah security official Wafik Safa confirmed they were dead. Family and friends who had gathered at the soldiers' homes were grief-stricken by the news.

Israel Wednesday positively identified the remains as those of soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Their capture sparked a month-long war.

In return for the soldiers, Israel released the five Lebanese prisoners, including Samir Kantar, who was convicted of taking part in a 1979 cross-border attack in which four Israelis, including two children, died.

Israel also is required to hand over the bodies of 200 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters as part of the German-brokered exchange deal. The Red Cross says it has handed over the bodies of eight Hezbollah fighters.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today praised Germany for facilitating the prisoner exchange. But he said there is still more work to be done. He expressed hope that the Palestinian militant group Hamas would follow suit and release a captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in exchange for an Israeli release of Palestinian prisoners.

Some information for this report provided by AP, Reuters and AFP.

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