Hizbollah: Germany Offers to Mediate Israeli Prisoner Release
Germany has offered to mediate for the release of three Israeli soldiers being held since Saturday by Hizbollah guerrillas, the group said Monday, amid expectations that Hizbollah would demand more than just the release of Lebanese held in Israel.
"We have been contacted by Germany, but also by other parties," a spokesman for the Iranian-backed Shiite fundamentalist party said when questioned about rumors surrounding German involvement.
The head of Hizbollah's political office, Sheikh Ibrahim al-Amin, confirmed Sunday that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was the "only channel of contact", but that other parties, including the UN, had also begun contacts.
The head of the ICRC in Lebanon, Herny Fournier, passed a message from the Israeli authorities to Hizbollah on Sunday, the contents of which have not been divulged.
Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, was due to meet later Monday with Rolf Knutsson, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's permanent envoy to Lebanon, a UN spokesman told AFP here.
Knutsson would go to Israel later to brief Annan on the situation in Lebanon, the spokesman added.
In Germany, a foreign ministry spokesman denied Berlin's involvement Sunday, following press reports, saying "Germany is not involved in the mediation."
A spokesman for the German embassy in Beirut declined to comment Monday.
German mediation in 1996 secured an exchange of bodies and prisoners between both sides, including the return of the body of Nasrallah's son, Hadi, killed during an attack on Israeli targets in southern Lebanon.
Hizbollah also said Monday that Palestinian groups had urged them to include Palestinian prisoners held in Israel in any future exchange deal.
Nasrallah received a letter from the committee of spouses and mothers of Palestinian prisoners in which they expressed "the hope that Hizbollah will succeed in concluding a deal in which all the (Arab) prisoners will be released from Israeli prisons."
"The heroic operation in the course of which you captured the three Israeli soldiers have raised our hopes to see the return of our sons and our husbands who are suffering the same ordeal as your mujahadeen in Israel's prisons," said the letter.
Nasrallah was due to meet a delegation of Palestinian human rights activists Monday who will pass on a letter from Palestinian prisoners asking that Hizbollah "act in their favor", a Hizbollah spokesman said.
Nasrallah said Saturday that his priority was the release of 19 Lebanese prisoners, including the fundamentalist leaders, Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid, and Mustapha Dirani.
But Lebanese newspapers said Monday that Hizbollah would not only demand the release of the 19 Lebanese but also of "hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, particularly militants of the Hamas resistance movement and of the Islamic Jihad in Palestine." - BEIRUT (AFP)
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