Wed, Oct 17, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Hopes of Hezbollah prisoner swap dim

EXCHANGE The two sides swapped three bodies and one prisoner at the border on Monday evening but Israel's prime minister said it would take time to bring more home

AP , JERUSALEM AND NABLUS, WEST BANK

Mariam Saad, aunt of Hezbollah fighter Mohammed Dimashqiyeh, who was killed during last year's Israel-Hezbollah war, rushes toward an ambulance believed to be carrying his body in the Lebanese southern coastal town of Naqura on Monday night.

PHOTO: AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday that the return of two soldiers captured by Hezbollah guerrillas is far off, dashing hopes that the latest deal with the guerrilla group would pave the way for a bigger prisoner swap.

Israel and Hezbollah swapped bodies and a prisoner across the heavily guarded Lebanese-Israeli border on Monday. Although the deal was small in scale, its success was widely seen as improving the chances of further exchanges involving the two Israeli soldiers -- Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev -- whose capture sparked a 34-day war last year.

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

"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 in a speech in the southern town of Ashdod.

Hezbollah has repeated the two soldiers would be freed only in exchange for freedom of all Lebanese prisoners held in Israel.

Monday's exchange, the fourth between Hezbollah and Israel in recent years, took place in the evening at Naqoura on the Mediterranean coastline on the heavily guarded border.

An official of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Beirut said the organization acted as an intermediary in swapping the bodies of the two Lebanese with the body of the Israeli civilian.

Israel's government said the exchange was linked to efforts to win freedom of the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah a year ago.

Olmert's office said in a statement said the two Lebanese militants were killed in the war last summer and that the Hezbollah captive was released for medical reasons.

The state-run news agency in Beirut identified the prisoner as Hassan Naim Akil, a Hezbollah fighter captured during last year's war.

A photographer saw Akil crossing the border sitting in a black Mercedes in between two civilians. The man, with a gray bushy beard, was peering out of the window and smiling.

Israeli TV stations said the body of the Israeli citizen handed over Monday was a Jewish immigrant from Ethiopia named Gabriel Dwait, who drowned in 2005.

The swap followed the release last week of a German-Israeli detained by Lebanese authorities on suspicions of espionage.

Israel's Channel 10 TV reported that Israel received information as part of the deal, but a gag order prevented release of details.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops raided the West Bank city of Nablus before dawn yesterday, and two Palestinians were shot and killed in the ensuing violence, Palestinian witnesses and doctors said.

Troops patrolled the Old City, taking up points on roofs and detaining at least five suspected militants, the witnesses said. At least two exchanges of fire broke out, and three gunmen from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades militia were injured, two seriously, the group said.

One later died of his wounds, doctors said.

A Palestinian man, 70, was shot just as he left his house in the area and later died of his wounds, his family and doctors said. It was not immediately clear if there was an exchange of fire at the time.

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