x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Israel-Hizbollah prisoners swap this week

Israel says it will release five Lebanese prisoners in exchange for two soldiers captured by Hizbollah.

Palestinians hold a portrait of jailed Lebanese prisoner Samir Kantar during a rally demanding the release of Palestinian relatives from Israeli jails.
Palestinians hold a portrait of jailed Lebanese prisoner Samir Kantar during a rally demanding the release of Palestinian relatives from Israeli jails.

Israel said yesterday it will release five Lebanese prisoners on Wednesday, including Samir Kantar jailed for a triple murder, in exchange for two soldiers captured by Hizbollah two years ago. The Jewish state was also set to transfer to Lebanon the bodies of almost 200 fighters of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hizbollah and release a number of Palestinians under the prisoner swap. "Samir Kantar and four other Lebanese prisoners ? Khaled Zidan, Maher Kurani, Mohammed Sarur and Hussein Suleiman ? will be taken on Wednesday from their centres of detention to a place to be decided by the Israeli army," the Prison Service said.

The prisons authority said the releases would begin on Wednesday, without giving details, in line with the government's decision of June 29 to go ahead with an exchange of prisoners with Hizbollah. Under the deal, Hizbollah will hand Israel two reserve soldiers it captured in a cross-border raid on July 12, 2006, sparking a devastating 34-day war that killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Israel believes that the two servicemen, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, are dead. But Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said earlier this month that "so far Hizbollah has not handed over any information about the fate of the two soldiers. Anything said in Israel is mere speculation." As part of the UN-mediated deal, Hizbollah has also handed Israel a report it had drafted on the fate of the Israeli airman Ron Arad who went missing in Lebanon in 1986, and whose fate remains unknown.

As part of the arrangement, Mr Arad's family has received previously unseen photos and extracts of a diary he kept in captivity, Israel's Channel 10 television said. One of the pictures, believed to date from 1987, shows Arad in pyjamas. His left arm appears to be wounded. According to the Channel 10 report, Hizbollah also transferred parts of Arad's diary which runs until 1987. In its report, Hizbollah said Arab had died in captivity, but Israel remained sceptical over the validity of its findings.

"The report ... does not provide a clear answer over the fate of Ron Arad and does not solve the issue. We are committed to continue working to find out his fate," the defence minister Ehud Barak was quoted saying by his ministry. "Despite that, as defence minister, a former chief of staff and commander, I have a moral duty to continue promoting the return home of Eldad Regev and Udi (Ehud) Goldwasser," Mr Barak said.

Israeli officials had made it clear the deal would go ahead only after Israel received intelligence on the air force navigator missing since a mission over south Lebanon during the country's civil war. Israel wanted the Shiite group to explain how it reached that conclusion and why it could not locate Arad's remains. But although the deal still requires the final approval of the Israeli government tomorrow, it is expected to be carried out as planned.

Mr Nasrallah, the Hizbollah chief, said early July that if the deal goes through, "Lebanon will be the first Arab state to close the file of its prisoners. There will be no more Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails." A controversial part of the agreement is the release of the Lebanese prisoner Samir Kantar, a Palestine Liberation Front militant serving five life sentences for killing Danny Haran, his daughter Einat, as well as an Israeli policeman in a 1979 raid on northern Israel.

The murders in the coastal town of Nahariya shocked Israel to the core by its brutality as Kantar and co-militants shot dead Danny, 28, and battered Einat's skull with rifle butts. Mr Kantar, who has earned the title of longest-serving Arab prisoner in Israel, was only 17 when he and three other members of the Palestinian organisation launched the deadly raid. *AFP