Israel-Hezbollah prisoners swap may take place on Wednesday: report

Israel Materials 11 July 2008 11:01 (UTC +04:00)

A long-awaited prisoner swap between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement may take place on Wednesday next week, Israel Radio reported Friday.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert plans to convene his cabinet on Tuesday, the day before, which is to give a final go-ahead for the move, the radio said, reported dpa.

The Israeli military has been ordered to make final preparations so that it will be able to carry out the move by that time, the radio said.

There was no immediate confirmation.

Olmert's representative on the prisoners of war issue, Ofer Dekel, signed the deal, brokered by a United Nations-appointed German mediator, Gerhard Conrad, while in Germany Sunday.

But Israel had clarified that the deal, even if signed, would be implemented only after it received a detailed and satisfactory report by Hezbollah on missing Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad, whose plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986.

Israel has sent back a version of the report, demanding a series of clarifications.

The Israeli cabinet had already voted for the swap a week earlier after an hours-long, stormy session.

The deal is controversial in Israel because under it, Israel is to receive two soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who are believed to be dead. They were captured in a July 2006 cross-border raid by Hezbollah, which had sparked a month-long, deadly and destructive war that had at the time failed to secure their release.

In return, Israel is to free five Lebanese prisoners, including four Hezbollah fighters caught in that war, and Samir Kuntar, who is serving multiple life sentences for a 1979 hostage-taking in which four Israelis were killed, including a father and his four-year-old daughter.

Israel is also to hand over the bodies of some 199 Lebanese fighters and militants buried at an anonymous cemetery in the north of the country.

The swap is to take place at the northern Israeli border crossing with Lebanon of Rosh Hanikra, under the auspices of the Red Cross.

Israel has also committed to free some seven to 10 Palestinian prisoners at a later stage.