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Sharon Warns Israel's Enemies Against Kidnapping Any More of its Citizens - 2004-01-29

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned his country's enemies they would face the military wrath of the Jewish State, if they dared to kidnap any more of its citizens. He was speaking Thursday at a ceremony in honor of three dead soldiers returned as part of a prisoner swap with the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah.

Mr. Sharon implied that Israel had refrained from using its military might but pledged it would do so if his warning is not heeded. Mr. Sharon issued his threat at a ceremony for three soldiers kidnapped and killed by the Hezbollah in October 2000.

The bodies were placed in wooden caskets, draped in the blue and white Israeli flags.

High ranking military officials, relatives and politicians attended a solemn service in honor of the soldiers at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion international airport.

The remains of the soldiers were handed over as part of a prisoner exchange with the Hezbollah, which is listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization.

As part of the deal, Hezbollah also set free Israeli businessman, Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was abducted more than three years ago.

His daughter, Karen, spoke about her feelings as she was about to be reunited with her father on the same day that a Palestinian suicide bomber killed at least 10 Israelis on a bus in Jerusalem. "We are all victims of the same terror. My father is a victim," she said. "My family is a victim and those people who died today and their families are victims of the same conflict."

In return for Mr. Tannenbaum and the bodies of the three soldiers, Israel released 400 Palestinians and more than 30 other prisoners from various Arab countries, including 23 Lebanese.

Following the exchange, Hezbollah appeared unmoved by Mr. Sharon's warnings and issued its own threat to carry out more kidnappings if Israel refused to give up its last Lebanese prisoner, Samir Kantar. He has been held in an Israeli prison since 1979 for killing three Israelis.

The threat to carry out more kidnappings came from Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nassrallah who spoke at a mass rally in Beirut.

The rally was part of tumultuous celebrations to mark the homecoming on Thursday of the Lebanese prisoners released from Israeli jails.