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Who Is Lebanon's Samir Kuntar?

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Question: Who Is Lebanon's Samir Kuntar?
Answer: In the early morning of April 22, 1979, four Palestinian guerillas burst into an apartment building at 61 Jabotinsky Street in the coastal resort town of Nahariya in northern Israel. One of the guerillas was Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese Druze. He was the commander of the cell. He was 17.

The guerillas were part of the Palestine Liberation Front, a radical splinter group under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Both were then headquartered in Beirut. The guerillas had boarded a small motorized rubber boat in the southern Lebanese town of Tyre the night before and made the short journey to Nahariyah with the expressed intent to attack civilians and terrorize them. As the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Front, Muhammad Zaydan (also known as Abu Abbas), said at a news conference in Beirut later that day, the PLF wanted to prove it could penetrate into Israel and take hostages in order to exchange them for prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Once inside the apartment of Danny Haran and his family, the four attackers took Haran and his 4-year-old daughter back to the beach, according to a military account at the time. Danny Haran's wife, Smadar, hid in the attic with their 2-year-old daughter. Reports at the time suggested that the gunmen killed the 2-year-old daughter in the apartment. Other accounts, including one reported on Israeli television the night of the attack, say the 2 year old suffocated to death when her mother tried to keep her quiet as the two hid in the attic.

One of the Palestinian attackers was shot dead by a resident at the resort. Another guerilla was killed in a separate gun battle with police. The two remaining guerillas, one of them Samir Kuntar, retreated to the beach. When they saw that their boat had been destroyed, they shot Danny Haran and crushed his 4-year-old daughter Einat's skull with the butt of a rifle.

Kuntar and his accomplice were wounded and captured by Israeli forces. An Israeli court convicted Kuntar on three counts of murder (he had also shot Israeli police officer Eliyahu Shahar). Kuntar denied killing Haran and his daughter. He and his accomplice, Ahmed Assad Abras, were sentenced to five life terms plus 47 years.

In 2008, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs declassified File No. 578/79, the Kuntar file containing testimony by Kuntar about the attack of April 22, 1979. According to Kuntar,

"While we were with [Danny Haran and his daughter at the beach], shots were fired at us... I shot some rounds at those people with my Kalashnikov rifle and hit one of them; he went down. When I saw the boat had been hit... we tried to retreat by land and escape the gunfire coming our way... Tthe army began an assault on us... I wanted to find a way to tell them to stop shooting at us, because our whole objective was to take hostages to Lebanon. But I didn't have a megaphone... I was hit by five bullets. Then [Danny] Haran got to his feet and signaled to the army forces with his hand to stop them from firing. He was hit by the bullets being shot at him by the soldiers. The five bullets that hit me struck sensitive places, so I lost a lot of blood and passed out. I didn't know what else was happening with me until I woke up in the morning and found myself in the military's hands. I didn't hurt the girl at all and I didn't see how she met her death.
The Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot's Nir Gontarz noted that "in court, prosecution witness no. 4 testified that he saw Danny Haran stand up and shout, 'Cease your fire, don't shoot. My little girl is here.' Immediately thereafter he saw Danny shot by Kuntar. Testimony was also given in court by a doctor who ruled that Einat's death had been caused by a direct blow with a blunt instrument, something like a stick or a rifle butt."

During his imprisonment at Hadarim Prison, Kuntar married an Israeli Arab woman and later divorced her, and graduated with a degree in political science from The Open University of Israel.

The Palestine Liberation Front in 1985 hijacked the luxury passenger liner Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean and demanded the release of Kuntar, along with some 50 other Palestinian and Lebanese held in Israeli jails. The hijackers' plot failed, but they evaded capture. In 2000, Israel offered to release 400 prisoners to Hezbollah. Hezbollah rejected the proposal because Kuntar was not among those Israel was willing to release.

On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah militants ambushed Israeli soldiers along the Lebanese border, killing three Israeli soldiers and seizing two of them--Sgt. First Class Ehud Goldwasser and Staff Sgt. Eldad Regev. Hezbollah's aim: to secure the release of Kuntar and other Palestinians and Lebanese held in Israeli jails.

What Hezbollah triggered instead was a 34-day war that cost the lives of some 1,123 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 165 Israelis, including 43 civilians. Israel continued to vow that it would never release Kuntar.

“Samir Kuntar is a monster,” Bradley Burston wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in September 2006. “He may never have deserved a life. But Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser, and Eldad Regev do. So do their families. Free the monster. Let them live.”

In July 2008, Israel agreed to release Kuntar and four other Lebanese prisoners--the last Lebanese in Israeli custody. In exchange, Israel got the remains of Shalit and Regev. The exchange took place on July 16, 2008.

Kuntar, 46, received a hero's welcome in the Hezbollah-dominated region of southern Beirut. “I return from Palestine, only to go back to Palestine,” he told a whistling, cheering, roaring crowd, according to The New York Times. “I promise families in Palestine that we are coming back, me and my brothers in the resistance.”

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