Mon, Nov 10, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Hezbollah blasts prisoner-swap deal

REUTERS , BEIRUT

The head of Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas said on Saturday that the group would reject any prisoner-swap deal with Israel unless it included all Lebanese detainees, including one held in Israel since 1979.

Israel's Cabinet is due to vote yesterday on the proposed prisoner swap with Hezbollah, which has been under negotiation for three years with German mediation.

Under the agreement between Israel and Hezbollah, some 400 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners would be traded for a kidnapped Israeli businessman and the bodies of three soldiers believed dead after being abducted near the Israeli border in 2000.

"Any exchange that excludes any Lebanese prisoner we will not accept," Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said, adding that German mediators had informed Hezbollah of an Israeli agreement to release all Lebanese detainees.

Nasrallah said Samir al-Qantar, a Lebanese convicted in an Israeli court of murder in an attack in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya in 1979, had to be among those released for any deal to go through.

"What has been learned ... is that the exchange of Lebanese prisoners would not include Samir al-Qantar," he said. "Before I could have said Samir al-Qantar is on the list, but now I say to the Zionist government which is meeting tomorrow that Samir al-Qantar must be first on the list. Any deviation breaks the agreement."

He was responding to recent Israeli press reports that Qantar was not scheduled for release as part of the proposed swap.

Israel's Cabinet will meet amid apparent internal division over the deal.

Relatives of airman Ron Arad, who went missing in Lebanon in 1986 and who Israel believes Iran may have, have accused the government of preparing to betray a longstanding Israeli principle of trying to win the return of all its people, alive or dead.

Israel wants the return of a reserve officer who it believes Hezbollah abducted while he was on an illicit trip to the United Arab Emirates, and three soldiers Hezbollah snatched near the border after Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000.

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