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Hezbollah Says Progress on Prisoner Swap..


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Hezbollah Says Progress On Prisoner Swap (Ghattas, AP)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

AP

By Sam F. Ghattas

Hezbollah's leader said Tuesday there is "positive progress" in negotiations to swap two Israeli soldiers captured by the group for Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.

On Monday, Israel returned a prisoner and the bodies of two Hezbollah guerrillas in exchange for the body of an Israeli who drowned at sea two years ago. The group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said that limited exchange provided "an important incentive" for a major prisoner swap in the future.

Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers in July 2006, sparked a 34-day war between the Lebanese guerrillas and Israel. As many as 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, including 40 civilians, were killed. But Israel failed to win the freedom of the soldiers Ehud "Udi" Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

Hezbollah has given no signs of life from the pair, who were severely wounded during the abduction. It has not allowed the Red Cross to see them.

Hezbollah has repeatedly said it would only exchange the two soldiers for all Lebanese and Arabs detained in Israel. Negotiations are being mediated by the United Nations.

"There is positive progress in the main negotiations over the two soldiers and the prisoners," Nasrallah said on television. He said intensive negotiations would resume within days.

Israeli government officials had no comment on Nasrallah's speech.

Earlier Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the return of the two soldiers is still far off, dashing hopes the swap a day earlier would pave the way for a bigger exchange.

Monday's exchange on the heavily guarded Israeli-Lebanese border was the fourth between Hezbollah and Israel in recent years.

Although the swap was small in scale, its success was widely seen as improving the chances of further exchanges. Hezbollah even had some rare positive words for Israel, praising the exchange "as an expression of humanitarian goodwill by both sides."

"Yesterday we passed a certain stage of the process but unfortunately, as I said, the process of returning Udi and Eldad in the north and Gilad in the south is long," Olmert said.

He also said it would take time to bring home a third captured soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who is being held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas-linked militants.

Israel's government said the exchange Monday was linked to efforts to win freedom of the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah. Olmert said the government has never stopped trying to bring its soldiers home in efforts that "are taking place behind the scenes."

"For years, our enemies have tried to raise the price that Israel pays for fragments of information and more than that, the return of kidnapped soldiers and civilians, or God forbid, bodies," he said.

"We're talking about an ugly and cynical bargaining over the Israeli public's emotions and sensitivities," he added. "Sometimes we have no choice but to pay the painful prices, but I was told that the deal completed last night was carried out fairly and for a price the state of Israel can pay."

Israel is holding at least six Lebanese, including Samir Kantar, who has been imprisoned since 1979 for killing three members of an Israeli family.

His release would be extremely politically charged given the brutality of the killings. Kantar shot a man in front of his 4-year-old daughter, then killed the girl with his rifle butt. The man's wife smothered their 2-year-old daughter while hiding from Kantar in a crawl space in the family apartment.

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Olmert Defends Deal With Hezbollah (Erlanger, NYT)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The New York Times

By Steven Erlanger

JERUSALEM, Oct. 16 - Defending the government's decision to make a minor deal with the Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel said Tuesday that Israel's enemies were engaging in "an ugly and cynical trade in emotions" and that the release of two captured Israeli soldiers was not imminent.

Speaking in Ashdod, Mr. Olmert said the swap of a captured Hezbollah fighter and two dead comrades for the body of an Israeli citizen who had drowned two years ago in a swimming accident had been part of the United Nations-moderated talks to return two Israeli soldiers captured at the start of the war last summer.

"Last night we passed a certain stage in the process," Mr. Olmert said in a speech broadcast on national radio. "Unfortunately, the road" to their release, he said, "is still a long one."

For information and prisoners, he said, "sometimes we have no choice but to pay painful prices, but I was told that the deal completed last night was carried out fairly and for a price the state of Israel can pay."

The fate of the two reservists, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, is unknown. They were both believed to have been wounded in the July 2006 Hezbollah attack in which they were captured, and Hezbollah has refused to say anything about their health, or even if they are alive. An effort by the International Committee of the Red Cross to see the two men or get information about them was also rebuffed.

A German intelligence official, Ernst Uhrlau, mediated the exchange. The swap came four days after Germany said it was granting early release to two convicts, a Lebanese and an Iranian, who were given life sentences in 1992 for assassinating dissident Kurds at a Berlin restaurant.

Hezbollah has a tradition of asking a high price even for information about the dead. Part of the trade on Monday was reported to be information - supposedly some handwritten documents - from a missing Israeli airman, Ron Arad, whose plane was shot down over Lebanon on Oct. 16, 1986, and who is believed to be dead.

Hezbollah is eager to win the return of Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese man serving a life sentence for murdering four Israelis, including a 4-year-old girl, during a terrorist raid in Nahariya in 1979.

Mr. Olmert said it would also take time to secure the release of an Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Hamas and other gunmen near Gaza in June 2006. Egypt has been trying to mediate a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas, but the two sides have not been able to agree on a prisoner list.

On Monday, Mr. Olmert appeared to solve another painful political issue by coming to an agreement with indigent Holocaust survivors on increased state aid. He agreed to raise allowances and services to poor elderly citizens, which would include thousands of survivors who were not in concentration camps but who were forced to flee their homes as the Nazis advanced.

Early Tuesday, in the West Bank city of Nablus, Israeli forces on an arrest raid killed Bassem Abu Saria, a local leader of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades of Fatah, and wounded two others. At least five other Palestinians were arrested.

When troops called on residents to leave a house in the old city, a Palestinian man, Abed al-Wazir, 72, was shot and died of his wounds. An Israeli Army spokeswoman said that the man died "in the exchange of fire with Palestinian gunmen" but that it was unclear whose bullet had killed him. The army called an ambulance for him, she said, and regretted his subsequent death.

His son, Shaked Wazir, told The Associated Press that he believed that Israeli troops shot his father and that the ambulance took 45 minutes to arrive. Later, a woman was also shot, but the army spokeswoman said she was not wounded by Israeli fire.

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