Hizbullah leader: Lebanon's longest-held prisoner in Israel to be released within two to three months
Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said Sunday that in the second phase of the prisoner exchange deal with Israel, Samir Kuntar - Lebanon's longest-held prisoner in Israel - will be released within two to three months and more Israelis being held in Lebanon will be freed.
According to the deal, Israel will free Kuntar, jailed in 1979 for killing a policeman and three members of an Israeli family, only if Israel receives significant information on missing airman, Ron Arad.
Nasrallah said at a press conference in Beirut that searching for Arad was in Hizbullah's interest and that his movement would establish a committee to investigate any information about him. "Any positive development in the case of Ron Arad will open the way for the release of more Palestinians and Arabs," Nasrallah conveyed.
Nasrallah confirmed the handover is to take place Thursday, when Hizbullah will release Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of Omar Suwad, Benny Avraham and Adi Avitan.
"After Thursday and Friday, there will be no Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails," Nasrallah told reporters in Beirut. "But the door is still open and the second stage will be very important."
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his cabinet Sunday that the government had made the "correct, moral and responsible decision" in opting to free more than 30 Lebanese and other prisoners and 400 Palestinians in exchange for Hizbullah's release of an ex-Israeli officer and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers killed in October 2000.
The completion of the prisoner exchange deal was confirmed Saturday by Israel and Hizbullah after the German mediator involved in the prisoner swap deal, Ernest Uhrlau, and the German government said the exchange had been completed.
The deal is expected to come through on Thursday, when Hizbullah will release Elhanan Tennenbaum and the bodies of the dead soldiers.
"I wish to announce that the prisoner swap deal, as approved by the government, is near completion," Sharon said Sunday. "The State of Israel has once again proven that it acts in accordance with the important value of 'bringing the sons home.'"
Top negotiator Brigadier General (Res.) Ilan Biran was presenting the ministers Sunday with the details of the swap.
According to Haaretz, Sharon said that the decision to approve the prisoner swap was a difficult one. "Rarely is a government faced with decisions as charged with issues of values and morality such as these," he said, adding that he thought the government had made "the correct, moral and responsible decision."
The Israeli prime minister said the agreement included a mechanism requiring all sides to make an effort to discover the fate of Israeli Air Force navigator, Ron Arad.
"I would like to stress that the murderer of the Haran family and of policeman Eliyahu Shahar [Samir Kuntar] will not be freed until after Israel receives substantial, proven information on the fate of Ron Arad," he said.
"I would like to thank the German government and the negotiators working on its behalf for their continued efforts to close the deal. I would also like to thank you, Ilan [Israeli negotiator Ilan Biran] and your team for the persistence and stubbornness with which you managed the negotiations," the Israeli leader said.
Sharon also promised "to do everything so that our hostages and MIAs who we have yet to bring back will also return home soon."
Israel will release on Tuesday the list of prisoners that it plans to release, 48 hours before the exchange, in order to enable High Court petitions to be submitted against the deal.
Israel will fly the released prisoners to Germany in its planes, and a German aircraft will transport Tennenbaum and the bodies of the soldiers from Lebanon.
"With this agreement Israel and Hizbullah have achieved a breakthrough in seeking to soothe one of the most painful consequences of the Middle East conflict," the German government said in a statement released Saturday evening.
According to the statement, Israel will release 23 Lebanese prisoners, including Lebanese leaders Mustafa Dirani and Abdel Karim Obeid, five Syrian prisoners, three Moroccan prisoners, three Sudanese prisoners and one Libyan prisoner.
Israel will also release 400 Palestinian prisoners to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In addition, Israel will free German citizen Stephan Smyrek, accused of planning attacks on Israel.
Israel will also give Lebanon information on 24 Lebanese MIAs. It would also hand over to Lebanon the bodies of 59 Lebanese citizens killed in action against Israel, as well as Israeli maps of mines along the border between Israel and Lebanon.
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud described the negotiations regarding the exchange of captives with Israel, which resulted in an agreement releasing Lebanese and Palestinian captives as a "big victory" for Lebanon and the resistance.
In a statement issued Sunday by the Lebanese Presidential Palace, Lahoud stressed that releasing the captives from Israel’s prisons comes as a "completion of the great
liberation march" which began on the day of the Israeli withdrawal from most of Lebanon's territories in 2000.
"Releasing the captives and arrested through negotiations constitutes a frank Israeli recognition that the resistance is legitimate and national, and it is not a terrorist movement as Israel claims", Lahoud said, according to SANA news agency.
For his part, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri described the process as a "liberation one for those who paid a lot in order to reach this point and as a big victory for resistance".
He congratulated the families of the captives and the Lebanese Hizbullah resistance. (Albawaba.com)
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)