BEIRUT (Reuters) - Two Israeli soldiers whose capture by Hezbollah in 2006 sparked a 34-day war and whose bodies were returned to Israel two years later were killed by Israeli bombardment, a Lebanese minister said on Wednesday.
Hezbollah handed over the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in a prisoner exchange but never said how they died. Israeli officials said they were badly wounded when they were captured by the Shi'ite militant group in a cross-border raid.
Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, publishing his memoirs of the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel in Lebanon's al-Safir newspaper, quoted a Hezbollah official as saying the two Israelis were killed by Israeli bombing.
"There is another subject which only a very few brothers know about, and which no one other than us will know about later," he quoted Hussein al-Khalil as saying on August 3, 2006, roughly half-way through the conflict.
"Israeli bombardment in recent days led to the death of the two Israeli prisoners."
He said the soldiers' captors had taken every precaution to avoid them being killed "but the expansion (of the area) of the bombardment and the use of big rockets...led to this."
"...It's ironic, Israel kills the prisoners on whose behalf it declared war. From our part, we will continue the battle of negotiations as if nothing had happened," the minister quoted Hussein al-Khalil as saying.
The bodies of the two Israeli soldiers were exchanged in July 2008 in a prisoner swap for five Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.
Among the released captives was Samir Qantar, who had been Israel's longest-serving prisoner and whom Israelis revile for his part in a 1979 Palestinian guerrilla attack.
The release of the Lebanese prisoners, said by Hezbollah to be the last held in Israel, closed a file that had motivated repeated attempts by Shi'ite guerrillas over the past quarter of a century to capture Israelis to use as bargaining counters.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans Editing by Maria Golovnina)