Israel, Hizbullah moving closer to swap deal
An Israeli negotiator was in Europe on Monday to pick up a report compiled by Lebanese Hizbullah on a long-missing Israeli airman, part of a prisoner-swap deal between the two sides, defense officials said. According to the AP, negotiator Ofer Dekel is to receive the report from a U.N.-appointed German official who mediated the deal. It is supposed to detail attempts Hizbullah made to find out what happened to airman Ron Arad after his plane crashed in Lebanon in 1986.
Arad was captured alive by Shiite fighters and changed hands several times before disappearing without a trace two decades ago. There have been reports that Arad was transferred to Hizbullah and then to Iran.
In exchange for the report on Arad, Israel is to provide information on four Iranian diplomats who disappeared in Lebanon in 1982. Iran claims they were kidnapped by Lebanese militiamen allied with Israel. Israel has long denied holding them, and Samir Geagea, former head of the disbanded Lebanese Forces, has said militiamen killed them.
The exchange of reports is part of a wider deal in which Israel is to hand over to Hizbullah four Lebanese prisoners in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Israel TV showed video of tractors beginning the process of exhuming the bodies of Hizbullah fighters that also are to be handed over as part of the deal. No firm timetable for carrying out the swap has been announced, but Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has said it would take place in mid-July.
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