Prisoner swap completed - Lebanese bodies handed over to Red Cross, released Palestinian prisoners meet Arafat
The Israel-Hizbullah prisoner swap started early Thursday morning, when a German air force plane carrying the Israeli citizen Elhanan Tennenbaum and three wooden coffins left Beirut for Cologne, Germany. The bodies of the three dead Israeli soldiers have been identified.
The plane carrying 29 non-Palestinian prisoners that took off from Israel earlier also landed at the airport. A total of 435 Arab prisoners - among them 400 Palestinians -are to be released under the terms of the deal.
Meanwhile, Tennenbaum, 58, met with Israeli army representatives at the military base in Cologne. He was expected to undergo a medical examination and initial questioning before being taken to Israel.
Buses also started carrying the first of 400 Palestinian prisoners toward home from an Israeli prison overnight, and a convoy of trucks carrying the bodies of 60 Lebanese fighters killed in action against Israeli troops left around dawn on its way to the Israel-Lebanon border crossing.
Later in the day, at the Nakurra border crossing, Israel handed over the bodies of the Lebanese to Red Cross trucks. The Red Cross identified the bodies before they were handed over at the crossing point to the Lebanese side.
Meanwhile, the release of Palestinian prisoners at the Salem and Beitunia checkpoints has been completed. At the Salem checkpoint, 43 prisoners were transferred from Israeli buses into the hands of their families and at Beitunia, 57 prisoners were released. The release of prisoners at the Erez checkpoint in the Gaza Strip has also been completed.
In addition, the release of prisoners at the Israeli army checkpoints in Tulkarem and Tarqumia in the West Bank has been completed.
As those released in Tarqumia got on their buses, they started singing songs and praised Hizbullah and its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. The prisoners vowed that in "blood and fire" they will redeem Jerusalem.
The Palestinian prisoners headed after their release to Yasser Arafat's HQ in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Hizbullah confirmed early Thursday for the first time the death of the three soldiers captured in October 2000. Hizbullah television, quoting "leadership sources", said: "the three captured Israeli soldiers are dead."
Meanwhile, in an interview with Hizbullah's Al-Manar television aired Wednesday night, Tennenbaum said he went to Beirut to find information about missing navigator Ron Arad.
Elsewhere, an Iranian delegation - including envoys dispatched by President Mohammad Khatami and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - arrived on Wednesday in Beirut to assist in moving on to the second stage of the prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hizbullah. (Albawaba.com)
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)