ICRC Delegate Asks to See Kidnapped Israelis
The representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Lebanon said Sunday he had asked Hezbollah's permission to see "as soon as possible" the three Israeli soldiers they captured the day before.
Henry Fournier was speaking to journalists after a meeting with Hezbollah official Wafiq Safa, who is in charge of prisoner exchanges for the Islamist group.
"On behalf of the ICRC president I requested from the Hezbollah access to the prisoners as soon as possible," Fournier said.
"I delivered a message from the Israeli authorities" about them, he added, saying the content of the message could not be disclosed.
"As it has done in the past for all prisoners, the ICRC is willing to be at the disposal of all parties in order to find a humanitarian solution to the problem of the three Israeli soldiers and also to all prisoners," he said.
Fournier said the ICRC was concerned about "the tension prevailing in all the region," but was acting only as a facilitator.
"If mediation or negotiation is necessary, there is room for others to work," he said.
Hezbollah seized the three Israelis in an ambush in the disputed Shebaa Farms area at the point where Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet.
A top Hezbollah official told journalists after meeting Fournier that other parties besides the ICRC had contacted the group about the hostages.
"For the moment, the only channel of contact is the ICRC, but other parties have been in contact with us, in particular the United Nations," said Sheikh Ibrahim al-Amin, head of Hezbollah's political bureau after a meeting with Fournier.
Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah will have a meeting Monday with Rolf Knutsson, the personal Middle East representative of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, he said.
On Saturday the United Nations called on Lebanon and Israel to release their respective prisoners "without delay."
Amin said Hezbollah "is concerned about the fate of non-Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails ... but we regard ourselves first and foremost as responsible for the Lebanese, in particular Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustapha Dirani.
Obeid and Dirani have been detained without charges in Israel for 11 years and six years, respectively. They were both snatched in Israeli commando operations in Lebanon. They are among 19 Lebanese being held in Israel.
Israel is holding them hostage for the return dead or alive of four Israeli servicemen, notably airman Ron Arad, missing in earlier actions in Lebanon.
Sheikh Nasrallah suggested Saturday evening that the group would be ready to exchange its captives for the 19 held by Israel -- BEIRUT (AFP)
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