Hizbol­lah ‘ea­ger’ to do pris­oner swap

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - BY AN­SHEL PF­EF­FER

HIZBOL­LAH HAS in­di­cated that it is ea­ger to reach a pris­oner-swap deal with Is­rael, which will in­clude the two cap­tured Is­raeli sol­diers and six Le­banese pris­on­ers be­ing held by Is­rael.

Le­banese me­dia out­lets close to Hizbol­lah have been re­port­ing an im­pend­ing deal this week, al­though Is­raeli sources sug­gest this is an ef­fort by Hizbol­lah to push the ne­go­ti­a­tions for­ward.

Sheikh Has­san Nas­ral­lah, the leader of the mil­i­tant group, gave a tele­vised ad­dress to a Hizbol­lah rally in Beirut on Mon­day in which he said: “The pris­on­ers are our prom­ise. Very soon, Samir Kun­tar and his brothers will be be­tween you in Le­banon.”

The Hizbol­lah leader was re­fer­ring to the Le­banese ter­ror­ist who was jailed for life in 1979 af­ter mur­der­ing three Is­raelis in an at­tack in Na­hariya, and to five Hizbol­lah mem­bers cur­rently in Is­raeli pris­ons.

Mr Nas­ral­lah’s words fol­lowed a flurry of re­ports in Le­banon that a deal over the pris­on­ers was close to fi­nal­i­sa­tion.

The ba­sic de­tails of the deal are thought to be that Kun­tar, four Hizbol­lah fight­ers cap­tured in the Sec­ond Le­banon War and Nasseem Nasser, a spy for Hizbol­lah ar­rested in 2002, will be re­turned to Le­banon in ex­change for the two Is­raeli sol­diers, El­dad Regev and Ehud Gold­wasser, cap­tured in the Hizbol­lah at­tack on an Is­raeli border-pa­trol that sparked the war.

Is­raeli sources also ini­tially ac­knowl- edged that sig­nif­i­cant progress had been made in the Ger­man-me­di­ated ne­go­ti­a­tions, but later de­nied the re­ports and said that a deal was still months away.

In the past, Hizbol­lah has de­manded that Is­rael also re­lease Pales­tinian pris­on­ers as part of the deal, a de­mand that Is­rael has stead­fastly re­fused.

One rea­son for the re­fusal is that Is­raeli intelligence sources be­lieve there is lit­tle chance that Mr Regev and Mr Gold­wasser sur­vived the Hizbol­lah at­tack on July 2006 and that Is­rael is only go­ing to re­ceive their bod­ies. Hizbol­lah has not sup­plied Is­rael with any proof that they are alive.

An Is­raeli source close to the ne­go­ti­a­tions told the JC that a deal with Hizbol­lah was far from fi­nalised and that all the latest re­ports came from the Le­banese side. Ac­cord­ing to the source, the re­ports in­di­cate that Nas­ral­lah is ea­ger to reach a pris­oner deal to bol­ster his po­lit­i­cal stand­ing inside Le­banon.

One ob­sta­cle to do­ing the deal is an Is­raeli cabi­net de­ci­sion that Kun­tar was to be a “bar­gain­ing chip” for a pos­si­ble deal lead­ing to in­for­ma­tion on the where­abouts of Is­rael Air Force nav­i­ga­tor, Ron Arad, who was cap­tured in 1986 and dis­ap­peared two years later.

A pos­si­ble so­lu­tion could be a re­port by Hizbol­lah, de­tail­ing its un­suc­cess­ful ef­forts to lo­cate Mr Arad, which would be handed to Is­rael.

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