Israeli sources: progress in Hezbollah swap talks
A senior Israeli
official confirmed Tuesday that progress has been made in indirect talks with Lebanon's militant Hezbollah movement on a prisoner exchange, but cautioned that no
agreement had been reached.
"The ball is now in Hezbollah's court," the official told Israel Radio on condition of anonymity because the negotiations, led by German mediator Gerhard Konrad, are classified, reported dpa.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, would not comment.
Israel and the Lebanese Shiite militant movement have been negotiating a prisoner swap since their 33-day war in the summer of 2006. Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, in a July 2006 cross-border raid, which sparked the Israeli invasion and aerial bombing.
Local media reported that Israel would release Samir Kantar, a Lebanese militant jailed for killing a father and his daughter in a 1979 infiltration into the northern Israeli coastal town of Nahariya, an Israeli citizen jailed for espionage on Hezbollah's behalf and four other Hezbollah fighters captured in the 2006 war. The deal reportedly would also include the bodies of 10 Lebanese held by Israel.
The Israeli reports come after Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah hinted Monday at a possible deal, when he said Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails would soon return home.
"Samir Kantar and his brothers will soon be home among their families," Nasrallah said in a speech to commemorate the eighth anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000.
A Western diplomat in Beirut also said the German mediator registered "some progress" in the talks.
"All I can say is that the German mediators have been successful in removing some of the prevailing obstacles which registered some progress in the file on prisoners," the diplomat told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
Samir Kantar's brother, Bassam Kantar, also told dpa his family had been informed "of some positive developments within the next 30 days regarding my brother as well as all the other prisoners held in Israel."
There was no indication whether Palestinian prisoners, whose release Hezbollah had also demanded, would be included in the deal.
It was also unclear whether Israel would be receiving information on Ron Arad, an Israel Air Force navigator who was shot down over Lebanon in 1986, and who is listed as "missing in action," his current whereabouts unknown.
A previous deal, never implemented, was to have seen Kantar released in exchange for credible information on Arad's fate.