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Captured Israeli Soldiers May Be Dead

The two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah guerrillas last summer suffered serious injuries in the attack that sparked a month-long war, military officials said Wednesday, raising the possibility the men may no longer be alive.

One of the soldiers was in critical condition after Hezbollah launched its cross-border attack July 12, while the other was seriously wounded, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity under military rules. Military censors had previously prohibited publication of their conditions.

Hezbollah has not released any details on the conditions of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser or provided any signs that they are still alive.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted this week that they might be dead, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger, which angered family members.

"We have been informed that they have been wounded, but we are acting on the assumption that they are alive," Shlomo Goldwasser, the father of one of the kidnapped soldiers, said.

In other developments:

  • The United Nations will ask donor countries to contribute a record $450 million in aid to the Palestinians, whose economy has been devastated by international economic sanctions on the Hamas-led government, U.N. officials said Wednesday. About three-quarters of the $453 million is earmarked for job creation, cash assistance and food aid, said David Shearer, head of the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The U.N. is also asking for money to support the Palestinians health and education system.
  • Israel's dovish education minister Yuli Tamir set off a storm by saying new editions of Israeli textbooks should no longer show the West Bank as part of Israel. Tamir said maps should delineate the so-called Green Line, or 1967 border. reports Israeli hawks are furious. They say the West Bank is part of the biblical Jewish homeland, and they accused Tamir of politicizing the education system.
  • France and Israel failed to patch up differences Wednesday over Israeli military flights over Lebanese air space, which French forces call menacing and Israel insists are needed for security. French peacekeepers say they came within seconds of shooting down Israeli F-15 fighters that nose-dived repeatedly over their positions in south Lebanon on Oct. 31. The incident incensed the French military.
  • Amnesty International's chief is urging both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take advantage of a new cease-fire. "Ordinary people are suffering and there is no sign of leadership on either side, or even among the international community, to talk about peace, human rights and justice," said Irene Khan, secretary-general of the international human rights group.
  • Israel's ultra-Orthodox community is threatening to boycott the national airline El Al, after it broke with tradition and flew several flights on the Sabbath, reports . The ultra-Orthodox, who supply 30 percent of El Al's business, are demanding a written commitment from the airline never to fly on the Sabbath again. El Al is reluctant. It says a modern airline should not be restricted by ancient Jewish law.

    Hezbollah has demanded that Israel release Arab prisoners in exchange for the missing servicemen. Olmert has demanded that Hezbollah provide signs of life before he will consider a deal.

    In a statement, the military would say only that a report about the circumstances of the abduction has been given to the defense minister, army commander and families of the soldiers.

    "The working assumption of the army was and remains that the abducted soldiers are alive and according to that assumption the army continues its efforts to bring the soldiers home," the statement said.

    Three soldiers were killed in the attack, and it was widely believed that the two captured soldiers were wounded after a fierce battle at the scene. But the military was unsure of their conditions until it completed an investigation several weeks after the incident.

    The attack sparked a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah. More than 1,000 people were killed on both sides, according to the U.N. and Israeli and Lebanese officials.

    Lebanon says most of those killed were civilians. Israel claims 800 Hezbollah fighters were killed, though that figure was not substantiated. On the Israeli side, 159 people were killed, including 39 soldiers.

    The U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended the war calls for the unconditional release of the soldiers. Under the cease-fire, a beefed-up U.N. peacekeeping force, along with Lebanese government troops, is policing the border with Israel.

    A third soldier, Gilad Shalit, was captured 17 days earlier by Palestinian militants, and is still being held, reports Berger. However, he is known to be alive and in good condition. Hamas has demanded 1,400 Palestinian prisoners, including top militants, in exchange for the 19-year old corporal.