NAHARIYA, Israel—Air raid sirens and crashing rockets have given way to barking dogs and giggling children on Arlozorov Street as residents chased away by Hezbollah rocket attacks return to their homes after more than a month of fighting.
But there's no end in sight for Shlomo and Miki Goldwasser, the couple at the end of the street, who are fighting to make sure that Israel and the world don't forget that their oldest son, Ehud, is still in enemy hands.
"Each day is worse," Miki Goldwasser said Thursday, the 37th day of her son's captivity in Lebanon. "Every day is getting harder."
The latest Middle East crisis was sparked July 12 when Hezbollah fighters captured Ehud "Udi" Goldwasser, 31, and Eldad Regev, 26, as they patrolled the Israeli-Lebanese border. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert unleashed an immediate military counterattack and threatened to fight until the two soldiers returned home safely.
But the operation is winding down without securing their release. And that's sparked discontent across Israel, where 70 percent in one poll said the military shouldn't have stopped fighting until the two were home.
"This is the strongest feeling we have: disappointment," said Regev's brother Beni, 35. "All the soldiers will come home—I hope healthy and all right—in the near future, and my brother and Udi are still there."
Olmert has personally assured the families that he hasn't forgotten the two soldiers, that the battle to secure their release has shifted to the political arena. Although Olmert vowed not to release Hezbollah prisoners in exchange for Regev and Goldwasser, expectations are growing that he will.
Both families are urging Olmert to do whatever it takes to bring the two home, with some members suggesting that he even agree to Hezbollah's demand that Israel release Samir Kuntar, a notorious Lebanese militant who killed five people in 1979 in an attack a few blocks from the Goldwassers' home in Nahariya, a town near the Lebanese border in northern Israel.
"I think that anything is justified to release my son," said Shlomo Goldwasser, who's 59. "I didn't send him there. Those who sent him there have to bring him back and pay any price. I don't want to go into this business of Samir Kuntar or others. They have to pay a price to bring my son back."
Beni Regev said that one way to send a message that terrorism wouldn't defeat Israel was to ensure that the two soldiers returned.
"We are getting two young men that can build their lives here," he said. "I think it is more important than Samir Kuntar, although he is a murderer."
In the weeks since the two were captured, their families have shifted into crisis mode. Family members have traveled to Europe and America to keep the issue on the global stage.
They've started a Hebrew Web site, www.habanim.org. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni calls almost every day to check in. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants to meet them. They have so many meetings with lawmakers from around the world that they can hardly keep track.
"We are sitting on their tails all the time," Shlomo Goldwasser said. "You have to be very careful with them. Politicians have very short memories, so at the moment they are doing things, but I don't know what will be tomorrow."
Much uncertainty surrounds the fate of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Hezbollah ambushed the two while they were in a Humvee. They may have been wounded and carried into Lebanon, since no Israeli army boot prints were found leading away from the attack site, said Regev's 26-year-old brother, Yair.
The families have tried everything they can think of to persuade Hezbollah to assure them that the two are alive. They tried unsuccessfully to send Bibles to the two soldiers. They're hoping that Hezbollah will agree to give the men letters from their families that can be returned with their signatures as proof that they're alive.
"They must let us know what is the condition of my brother and Udi," Beni Regev said. "We don't even know if they are alive. This is the first step in negotiations."
The days of doubt are taking a toll. But the families refuse to let the stress wear them down.
"I'm not so calm as I look," said Miki Goldwasser, who's 60. "But my strength is to send him every moment of the day the strength to hold on. Each piece of my body sends him strength: Hold on, my son. We are coming to take you. That's what holds me up."
In the past month, the two families have allied with the family of 19-year-old Gilad Shalit, a soldier whose fate has been overshadowed by the conflict in Lebanon. Shalit was captured June 25 by Palestinian militants who dug a tunnel from Gaza into Israel.
His capture sparked an ongoing Israeli military operation, and Miki Goldwasser said their fates all were intertwined.
"When I go to represent Udi, I go to represent Eldad and Gilad," she said.
"They are my sons too."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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