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Let Them Go

The release this week of two Fox News journalists who had been kidnapped in Gaza by Palestinian terrorists is an occasion for joy and relief on the part of their families, their friends and their home governments. The Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority deserves acknowledgment for its role in bringing the two men home. Apparently, the Palestinian leadership is capable of taking firm action when it wants to. That’s important to know.

But the episode’s ending raises a disturbing question: If international pressure was capable of freeing two men kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists without a shred of justification, why are the three Israeli soldiers kidnapped this summer still languishing in captivity?

The three — army reservists Ehud Goldwasser, 31, and Eldad Regev, 26, and regular army corporal Gilad Shalit, who turned 20 this week — were all captured by armed gunmen on Israeli soil while patrolling internationally recognized borders. Goldwasser and Regev were captured on the Lebanese border July 12 by Hezbollah, while Shalit was snatched on the Gaza border two weeks earlier, on June 25, apparently by Hamas gunmen. The kidnappings drew international condemnation for a few hours, but quickly faded into the background as world attention focused instead on the military actions that Israel took to bring its soldiers home.

Two months later, the United Nations has managed to halt the fighting in Lebanon and efforts are under way to repair the damage inflicted on that sorry country. Now, it appears, Israel is free to bargain with the gangsters who kidnapped its citizens for their safe return.

And so Israel will bargain. Hamas is demanding the release of several hundred Palestinian militants held in Israeli prisons on terrorism charges. It is a swap that Israel has made before, reluctantly.

As for Hezbollah, its choices are more limited. Only a handful of Lebanese prisoners are currently detained in Israel. The most important name on Hezbollah’s wish list is Samir Kantar, who led a 1979 raid on the Israeli city of Nahariya. Kantar attacked the home of a young family, the Harans, taking away the father, Danny, and his daughter Einat, 4. The mother, Smadar, survived by hiding in a closet with a second daughter, Yael, 2. Kantar was captured on the beach, but not before shooting Danny Haran in the back and smashing Einat’s head against the rocks. Yael was killed when her mother, trying to keep her from crying out, accidentally smothered her. This is the hero for whose sake Hezbollah was willing to sacrifice half of Lebanon.

Israel has traded prisoners with the Palestinians in the past, and it will do so again before the two peoples finally settle their differences.

Between Israel and Hezbollah, however, there are no differences to resolve. Samir Kantar should never walk free. The U.N. and its secretary general, Kofi Annan, should reject the temptation to bargain over the two reservists. The international community should stand together and insist that Hezbollah return Goldwasser and Regev to their families as a matter of simple justice — or pay the price.

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