As of now, however, five of them have been returned for nothing in return - because of an apparent case of mistaken identity and a threatening court suit filed by left-wing lawyer Leah Tzemel.
The five were captured in by the elite IDF Sayeret Matkal unit in the Baalbek region of southern Lebanon, for the purpose of serving as bait or negotiating cards for the return of the two soldiers. However, Tzemel claimed that it was only the surname of two of them - Nasrallah, the same as the arch-terrorist Hizbullah leader - that caused them to be taken captive by Israel. She said that this was not sufficient, and that those responsible for holding them could be charged in international courts.
The five are: Hassan Nasrallah, 53; his son Balal Hassan Nasrallah, 31; Hassan's brother-in-law Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Outa, 51; his son-in-law, 51; and their neighbor, 44. The IDF force flew them by helicopter to Israel for interrogation, where it was learned that despite the names, they were not connected to the Hizbullah leader.
Atty. Tzemel noted that the taking of hostages who do not threaten the country's security is forbidden by the Geneva Charter, and could render those responsible liable to be charged with war crimes. The threat worked, and while the Supreme Court ordered the Defense Minister to respond to the case within 24 hours, Israel did not wait that long - and sent the five back to Lebanon on Monday.
The Lebanese men were transferred to the Rosh HaNikra border crossing, where UNIFIL representatives assumed custody for them and transferred them to a Lebanese Army headquarters near Beirut.
Eight Hizbullah prisoners remain in Israeli hands, as well as a number of dead terrorists' bodies.
Italian Senator Sergio de Gregorio said the two kidnapped IDF soldiers are still alive but not in “great” condition. Iran, Hizbullah's patron, has apparently chosen Italy as the middleman country in negotiations over their release. De Gregorio did not provide details as to how he knew their condition.
In addition to Regev and Goldwasser, IDF Corp. Gilad Shalit remains in Hamas captivity, presumably somewhere in Gaza. He was abducted by Hamas terrorists in late June, and no word has been heard from him since.
The Hamas and Hizbullah terrorists have demanded the return of "thousands" of Palestinian terrorist prisoners held in Israel - though Hizbullah recently appeared to downgrade its demands to "hundreds." In January 2004, Israel exchanged hundreds of Arab prisoners for kidnapped Israeli businessman Elchanan Tenenbaum and three dead Israeli soldiers.
Other Israeli hostages or security agents in foreign captivity or custody:
- Guy (ben Rina) Hever, who disappeared near the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights in August 1997;
- Ron (ben Batya) Arad, captured when his plane was downed over Lebanon in Oct. 1986;
- Yehonatan (ben Malkah) Pollard, nearing the end of his 21st year of a life sentence in the U.S. for having passed information to Israel;
- Tzvi (ben Pninah) Feldman, Yehuda (Yekutiel Yehuda Nachman ben Sarah) Katz, and Zecharia (Shlomo ben Miriam) Baumel, who were all captured in the Sultan Yaaqub battle in Lebanon on June 11, 1982.