Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lebanese gunman at center of Israel prisoner swap

By AMY TEIBEL – 4 hours ago

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Lebanese gunman at the center of Israel's prisoner swap with Hezbollah spent three decades in an Israeli prison for one of the grisliest attacks in the country's history.

Samir Kantar was one of four militants who made their way in a rubber dinghy from Lebanon to Israel's northern shore around midnight on April 22, 1979.

In a hail of gunfire and exploding grenades, they charged into an apartment building in the coastal city of Nahariya, 5 miles from the Lebanese border, where the Haran family lived.

Smadar Haran sought refuge with her 2-year-old daughter, Yael, and a neighbor in a crawl space. Her 28-year-old husband, Danny, grabbed their 4-year-old daughter Einat, hoping to dash outside to an underground bomb shelter, when the attackers burst into their apartment.

Father and daughter were herded down to the beach, where their assailants hoped to pack them into the rubber boat and take them as hostages to Lebanon, according to a recently declassified transcript of Kantar's testimony at his trial, published this week by Israel's Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

But the dinghy had been punctured by gunfire, so the attackers went on a bloody rampage instead.

The Israeli court found that Kantar shot Danny Haran in front of his child, then killed her, too.

"Kantar went over to Einat Haran and hit her head twice with the butt of his rifle, with the intent of killing her," the judges wrote, according to the court transcript.

Kantar, who was 16 at the time, has consistently denied killing the child or smashing her skull and indicated she may have died in the Israeli rescue operation.

An Israeli policeman also died in the attack. So, too, did Yael. To keep her from crying out and revealing their hiding place, Smadar had kept her hand over her daughter's mouth — accidentally smothering her.

Police killed two of the attackers and captured the other two. Kantar, a Lebanese Druse recruited by the Palestine Liberation Front, was sentenced by an Israeli court to life in prison.

Over the years, Kantar has expressed no remorse for his actions, confidants say.

"If I were to spend another 20 years in prison, I will not write an apology letter for the ... operation, since the struggle continues," his brother Bassam Kantar, in an e-mail to the AP, quoted him as saying.

After suspected Lebanese terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyeh was killed in Syria in February, Kantar wrote a letter to Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrilla group, vowing that "my place will be at the battlefront," Bassam Kantar added.

While in prison, Kantar learned Hebrew and earned a degree in sociology. His thesis, written in Hebrew, was titled: "The Contradiction of Democracy and Security in Israel," his brother said.

Associated Press writers Diaa Hadid in Ramallah, West Bank, and Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Lebanon, contributed to this report.

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