Israel, Hezbollah agree to exchange dead

( AP ) - Israeli returned the bodies of Hezbollah guerillas and a Lebanese prisoner on Monday in exchange for the body of an Israeli who drowned in the Mediterranean, the Lebanese state news agency and other media reported.

An Israeli military vehicle carrying the bodies of the dead Lebanese crossed into the no man's zone along the border at sundown and returning shortly afterward, crossing paths with Lebanese ambulances headed the other way. Officials did not immediately confirm what was inside the vehicle.

The state-run National News Agency reported that Hezbollah gave the International Red Cross the body of Israeli civilian and that the ICRC took custody from Israel of the two dead guerrillas and a prisoner.

Although the exchange Monday was limited in scope, it could improve the chances of further exchanges involving the two Israeli soldiers whose capture triggered the conflict last year in which up to 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon, most of them civilians. Israel lost about 160 people in the fighting, most of them soldiers, but failed to win the freedom for its soldiers.

Lebanese troops kept journalists and civilians away from the border and the area where the exchange took place. About 100 people gathered near the army checkpoint.

Among those waiting was Hussein Wizwaz, in his 60s, who came after hearing from Hezbollah that the body of his son would be returned.

Ali Wizwaz, 32, was killed in a border battle with Israeli troops, his father said. But Hussein Wizwaz said he hoped that prisoners would be freed first, including Samir Kantar, held since 1979 for killing three Israelis.

"Those who are alive are more important than the martyrs," the man said.

Hezbollah's capture of the two Israeli soldiers during a cross border raid last July sparked a 34-day war between the Shiite Muslim group and Israel. Three other Israeli soldiers were killed in the raid.

Last year, Israeli officials for the first time raised the possibility that the two soldiers held by Hezbollah might not have survived the initial attack. Military officials then said one of the soldiers was critically wounded and the other seriously wounded when they were captured, without giving further details.

A Lebanese official close to the country's opposition, which includes Hezbollah, said the Israeli to be swapped Monday "died of a cause unrelated to last year's aggression."

New TV, a local Beirut station, reported that the bodies of two Lebanese would be exchanged for the body of an Israeli who had drowned in the Mediterranean and whose body was swept northward by current. It did not elaborate.

Although the swap expected Monday was limited in scope, the fact that it is taking place could improve the chances of further exchanges involving the two Israeli soldiers whose capture triggered the conflict last year in which up to 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon, most of them civilians. Israel lost about 160 people in the fighting, most of them soldiers, but failed to win the freedom for its soldiers.

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

Several Hezbollah members were captured during last year's war. In addition to Kantar, the main Lebanese prisoners held in Israel are Nasim Nisr, a Lebanese-born Israeli captured for having contacts with Hezbollah, and Yehia Skaff, who was detained in 1978 while taking part in a Palestinian militant attack that killed 35 Israelis, are also held in Israel prisoner.

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