Israel Willing to Release Dirani if Hizbollah Releases Four Kidnapped Israelis
Israel said on Friday that it was willing to release a Lebanese leader if this helps bring home four Israelis kidnapped by the Lebanese Hizbollah movement, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, said in an interview.
Mustafa Dirani was abducted by Israeli troops in 1994.
He and Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid, a spiritual leader of Hizbollah, who was seized by the Israelis in 1989, were originally held as bargaining chips for the return of the Israeli air force navigator Ron Arad.
Arad was reportedly shot down and captured in Lebanon in 1986 but no reliable information about his fate has been received for many years.
The Israeli government intends to offer a 10-million-reward for significant information about Arad's condition and where he is being held, reported Haaretz newspaper, citing Channel 1 television.
Three of the Israelis, all soldiers, were kidnapped by Hizbollah in October.
The other, a civilian who is also an officer in the reserves, was reportedly lured to Lebanon two weeks later.
In an interview with Yediot Ahronot, Ben-Eliezer implied that a fourth Israeli soldier, who has been missing for more than a year, may also be in the hands of the Lebanese guerrillas.
"I will stop at nothing and am willing to pay almost any price to bring them home," Ben-Eliezer said. "I am also willing to discuss anything, such as returning Dirani, as long I have some grounds for believing that the boys are alive," The Associated Press quoted him as saying.
Hizbollah chief, Hassan Nasrallah, has said he will insist that Israel release Palestinian prisoners as well as Dirani, Obeid and any other Lebanese being held in Israel.
Germany and other European countries have tried to mediate an exchange of prisoners between Israel and Hizbollah, but the negotiations never really got started. Israeli officials have said Hizbollah never provided proof that the soldiers are alive.
Ben-Eliezer said he will insist on solid evidence, such as a videotape, according to AP – Albawaba.com
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