German negotiator informs Israel missing aviator is dead

United Nations hostage negotiator Gerhard Konrad has handed over a message to Israel from Hezbollah indicating that missing Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad is dead, a Lebanese security source said Monday.

According to the source, the German negotiator has handed over the report from Hezbollah to Israel, which he said details the organization's efforts to obtain information on Arad as part of the second stage of the prisoner swap agreement which was approved by the Israeli cabinet on Sunday.

The source said the report indicates that Arad was killed two years after he was captured, reported dpa.

For their part, Israel will give Hezbollah a report on the fate of four Iranian diplomats kidnapped and killed during the Lebanon war in the 1980s.

Israel has previously said it does not know what happened to the diplomats, who were arrested at a Christian Phalange party roadblock in north Lebanon in 1982 and are believed to have been subsequently been executed.

Israel is formally to sign the German-brokered agreement with Hezbollah on a prisoner exchange only after it receives the report on Arad, Israeli media reported Tuesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet approved the agreement Monday afternoon, after a six-hour, stormy debate.

Under the agreement, Hezbollah is first to submit a detailed report on the efforts it has made to solve the mystery of Arad, who went missing after his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986.

As part of the controversial deal, Israel is to release Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar, thus far considered the main bargaining chip for information on Arad.

Kuntar led a 1979 infiltration and hostage-taking into Israel from Lebanon, in which he and his men killed four Israelis, including a father and his four-year-old daughter whom they had taken hostage.

On receiving the report, studying it and finding it "serious," the Israeli government will then release Kuntar within 10 days, Israeli security officials told Israel Radio.

Israel will also free four Hezbollah fighters caught in the July- August 2006 second Lebanon war, as well as the bodies of about 10 others killed in that war.

In return, Hezbollah is to free Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, two Israeli reserve soldiers whose capture by Hezbollah in a July 12, 2006, cross-border raid sparked the 33-day war.

Olmert told his cabinet Monday that the two soldiers were dead.

The swap is to take place at the Rosh Hanikra crossing, on the coast and on Israel's northern border with Lebanon, under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Israel is then to free between seven and 10 Palestinian prisoners within 30 days of the exchange, as a "goodwill measure for the Palestinian people."

The latter clause is seen as a compromise, with Hezbollah initially demanding the release of scores of Palestinian militants from Israeli prisons.

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