The four men released with Kuntar were captured during that war in 2006.

'No regrets'

Kuntar was convicted and sentenced to five life terms for killing a police officer, a civilian and a four-year-old child in a raid in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya.

But on Thursday he told the crowds that came out to welcome to his home town: "I haven't for even one day regretted what I did.

"On the contrary I remain committed to my political convictions," Kuntar said.
  
"I feel enormous joy because I have returned to the ranks of the resistance and to my family."

Kuntar's family says that he did not commit any of the murders and that the victims were killed in crossfire during a shootout with Israeli security forces trying to apprehend Kuntar and other members of his group.

Walid Jumblatt, a leading member of the pro-government camp, and Talal Arslan, a Druze member of the opposition, as well as Mohamed Fneish, the labour minister, took part in the ceremonies in Abeih.

Israeli condemnation

Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, on Thursday labelled Kuntar an "animal" for the crimes he was convicted of carrying out.

"Woe betide the people who celebrate the release of a beastly man who bludgeoned the skull of a four-year-old toddler," he said in a statement.

But Mohamed al-Sayed Said from the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies in Cairo, said Olmert "should not take the moral high ground" with respect to what he sees as the "destructive effect" of the 2006 war.

"I don't think Olmert has any right to declare moral victory. While he may call Kuntar an animal, the war that he launched in 2006 resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people," he told Al Jazeera.

"The whole world saw and continues to see how destructive it was."

Mostly of the Lebanese victims of the conflict were civilians, and about one-third of them were children. About 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were also killed.

Soldiers pledge
  
Al Jazeera's David Chater, reporting from Goldwasser's funeral in Nahariya, said that the Israeli government had reiterated its pledge to bring home missing or dead soldiers.

"Ehud Barak [Israel's defence minister] made a big promise that Israel would do anything to get any of their soldiers back again," he said.

Thousands of mourners attended the funerals of the two Israeli soldiers [AFP]
"He said that efforts would not cease to get back Gilad Shalit [an Israeli soldier] from the Gaza Strip ... and that Israel would continue efforts to look for Ron Arad, a missing Israeli air force navigator who disappeared when his plane crashed in Lebanon in 1986."

Goldwasser's coffin, draped in the blue and white Israeli flag, was carried to the graveside by his comrades from the elite Golani infantry brigade.

Regev was buried at cemetery in Haifa later in the afternoon with members of the Shalit family among the several hundred mourners.

Chater also said that Israel had acknowledged that Hezbollah had got the best of the latest deal.

"There is a lot of thought going on. A committee is being prepared by the Israeli government so that some kind of rule can be set for prisoner exchanges," he said.

Hezbollah also received the bodies of almost 200 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters from Israel.

On Thursday, the coffins containing the remains were driven from south Lebanon to Beirut on the backs of eight lorries. Crowds of supporters showered the convoy with rice and rose petals as they made the journey.

The coffins were taken to a Hezbollah educational complex near Beirut airport where forensics experts will carry out DNA tests in an attempt to identify the bodies.