JERUSALEM // Israel has signed an undertaking in front of UN officials to go ahead with a proposed prisoner swap with the militant group Hizbollah, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday. "The Israeli pointman Ofer Dekel signed in the presence of the UN officials the arrangement proposed by the UN," the spokesman, Mark Regev, said. The Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said last Wednesday that the proposed exchange would take place within two weeks.
The Israeli cabinet approved the deal last month under which it is to release five Lebanese prisoners, the remains of Hizbollah fighters and an undetermined number of Palestinians in exchange for the bodies of soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. The pair were captured, badly wounded, by Hizbollah in a cross-border raid on July 12, 2006, that sparked a devastating 34-day war in Lebanon that killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Mr Olmert told his cabinet the two soldiers were dead. But Mr Nasrallah said: "So far Hizbollah has not handed over any information about the fate of the two soldiers. Anything said in Israel is mere speculation. We have provided no information." Mr Nasrallah said Hizbollah had agreed to Israeli demands for information on the missing airman Ron Arad as a precondition for the exchange and would pass it on through a German mediator.
But the Israeli prime minister's spokesman said yesterday that had yet to happen. "We have not received the promised report about Ron Arad," Mr Regev said. "We are waiting for it. When we receive it, the government will discuss further moves." On Friday, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Israel had received the report about its airman, missing since 1986, and added that it said he had been dead for more than 10 years.
On Sunday, Israeli officials said the army was preparing to start exhuming the bodies of dead Hizbollah fighters in readiness for the prisoner swap. The army declared a cemetery for enemy combatants near Amiad in northern Israel a closed military zone in preparation for the exhumation that was expected to start on Monday and last several days, the officials said. *AFP