Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak ruled out Wednesday any negotiations to secure the release of three soldiers snatched by Lebanese guerrillas until there was news about their health and safety.
"There will be no negotiations with Hizbollah as long as it does not allow a visit to the soldiers by an organization such as the Red Cross," Barak told a closed-door meeting of the foreign affairs and defense committee, army radio reported.
"Before any negotiations about them, we want to know what state they are in," Barak, who has warned of fierce reprisals over the abduction, said in a separate interview with public radio.
Barak has said he holds Syria responsible for the fate of the three Israeli army sergeants who were kidnapped Saturday by fighters from the Shiite Muslim Hizbollah movement during the first major flare-up of cross-border violence since Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in May.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Tuesday he had word that the three were "well," although the Red Cross said it has still has not been allowed access.
The army has said it found traces of blood at the scene of their abduction at Shabaa Farms, a disputed mountainous region on the border, suggesting they had been wounded.
Hizbollah number two, Sheikh Naim Kassem, said in Beirut on Wednesday that the group would accept the mediation of Annan over the soldiers but insisted they would only be freed as part of an exchange of prisoners.
And Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi, whose country backs Hizbollah, said in Syria that a deal would have to include "all the prisoners in Israel", without specifying if he meant Lebanese and Palestinians held in the Jewish state – JERUSALEM (AFP)
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