Hizbullah declines to give any details on negotiations with Israel; Palestinians hope deal to include their detainees
A prominent leader from the Lebanese Hizbullah movement on Tuesday declined to reveal any details about the ongoing negotiations between his side and Israel over the release of those prisoners held by both sides.
Reports have affirmed that Hizbullah has indeed relinquished its previous condition stipulating the release of all Arab prisoners held by Israel in return for the release of Israeli prisoners held by the Lebanese movement, a fact that has facilitated the deal. However, the Palestinians have expressed strong optimism over the potential inclusion of Palestinian prisoners as well within the general framework of the deal.
The German news agency has cited a Lebanese security source as saying that the prisoner exchange deal between Hizbullah and Israel has indeed been completed, and the German brokers involved are now wrapping up the deal’s final phases, including the manner in which the deal will be implemented.
While there have been several Israeli leaks about this issue, and information is continuing to flow to the media about the development of the process from the Israeli side, Hezbollah has surrounded the subject with secrecy and declined to give any details about the negotiations.
Hizbullah spokesperson, Haider Doqmaq, told Al Bawaba via telephone “my party does not want to give any details about the negotiations.”
Last week, Hizbullah secretary general Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah confirmed, “tangible progress has been made in the negotiations over the prisoner exchange.” Meanwhile, the Israeli Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, confirmed what Nasrallah said, saying, “the coming days would witness results that might lead to the closure of this chapter.”
Israel is currently holding 20 Lebanese prisoners amongst who are two of its leaders: Sheikh Abdul Karim Ebaid and Mustafa al Dirani. Hizbullah on the other hand has in its custody four Israelis including three soldiers seized in October 2000 in the Sheba’a farms; an area in southern Lebanon not given back to Lebanon after Israel ended its occupation of the area. The fourth Israeli prisoner, Hanan Tannenbaum, is described by Israel as a businessperson, while Hizbullah claims he is in fact an officer in the Israeli intelligence service.
Early this week, Hezbollah permitted the German negotiator - Ernest Orlow - to visit Tannenbaum and in return, Israel returned to the Lebanese group the remains of two of its fighters that were killed in border clashes with the Israeli soldiers during the nineties, when Israel occupied southern Lebanon.
For their part, a Lebanese security source has revealed that the deal has in fact been concluded, and he expects the exchange to be completed within the next few days.
On the other hand, Israeli security confirmed to the Israeli daily, Yediot Aharanot, “the German intermediary Ernest Orlow has succeeded in striking an agreement between Israel and Hizbullah after the latter backed down from its previous condition, stipulating the release of all Arab prisoners including the Palestinian ones.” Hizbullah, the Israeli source said, “has expressed satisfaction with the release of only the Lebanese prisoners, in addition to the remains of 15 Hizbullah fighters who died while carrying out military attacks against Israel in south Lebanon before the Israeli forces withdrew from the area in May 2000.”
This so-called agreement would constitute a serious setback and a great disappointment for the Palestinians, who grew accustomed to hearing Hezbollah leaders reiterate on almost every occasion that the Palestinian prisoners would be included in any deal reached with Israel.
For its part, the Islamic Jihad - who has hundreds of its members held in Israeli prisons - ruled out any possibility Hizbullah would back down from its previous conditions. “The Palestinian movement [Islamic Jihad] is optimistic that the anticipated deal would also include the Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails whose numbers exceed 6,500,” said Islamic Jihad spokesperson Nafeth Azzam.
“On every occasion possible, Hizbullah’s leaders reiterated the need to have the Palestinian prisoners included in any deal with Israel over the exchange of prisoners,” Azzam told Al Bawaba via telephone. He also suggests that the delay in reaching a final agreement between both sides has been due to the issue of the Palestinian prisoners.
For his part, the head of the Palestinian Prisoner Club - Eissa Qaraqie - reiterated his optimism that the anticipated agreement would include the Palestinian prisoners as well. “We are very optimistic and expect the deal to include the Palestinian prisoners as well, particularly those serving long jail terms in Israeli prisons,” said Qaraqie.
Qaraqie described the latest developments over the exchange of prisoners between Hizbullah and Israel as “a boost to the morale of those Palestinians serving terms inside Israeli prisons.”