Hezbollah says all Lebanese prisoners will soon be home

Lebanon's Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said Monday that Lebanese prisoners held in Israel jails would soon return home, dpa reported.

"Samir Kantar and his brothers will soon be home among their families," Nasrallah said during a speech to commemorate the eighth anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon on May 2000.

"Releasing the prisoners is our duty and it is our holy mission," Nasarllah said without providing any further details.

Earlier Monday, a western diplomatic source told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa that the ongoing German-mediated prisoner exchange between Israel and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah had registered "some progress and removed some of the obstacles which have previously delayed the swap."

"The family has been informed of some positive developments within the next 30 days regarding my brother as well as all the other prisoners held in Israel," Bassam Kantar, brother of Samir Kantar, the longest-held Arab prisoner, told dpa.

Kantar, 45, was sentenced to 542 years in prison in 1980 for killing an Israeli man and his four-year-old daughter in an attack in the Israeli resort of Nahariya.

His fate has often been linked to the issue of missing Israeli airman Ron Arad, who was captured after his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986. Arad's whereabouts are still unknown.

"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," a Western diplomatic source close to the negotiations told dpa in Beirut.

"I think some of the Hezbollah leaders will make it official and will speak about this progress," said the diplomat.

Israel withdrew unilaterally from southern Lebanon after 22 years of occupation on May 23-24, 2000.

According to Lebanese media reports, one of the Lebanese prisoners in the Israeli Nessim Nisr jail was expected to be released soon.

The last prisoner exchange between the Shiite militant group and Israel took place in October, with Hezbollah handing over the remains of one Israeli in exchange for the bodies of two militants and a prisoner.

It was the first such swap in nearly four years and was the result of German and UN mediation.

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