Israel's deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, said Tuesday that Israel should be prepared to release two leading Lebanese Islamic militants held for years without charge as the price for the release of Israeli soldiers captured by the Shiite Muslim Hizbollah movement.
Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustapha Dirani, who are among 19 Lebanese detainees in Israel, were abducted by Israel's commandos during the Jewish state's occupation of south Lebanon as bargaining chips for missing Israeli servicemen.
"It is clear that when there is a question of an exchange, Sheikh Obeid and Dirani will be raised. That will be part of the price to be paid by Israel," Sneh said on public radio.
Hizbollah, which led the armed campaign against Israel's 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon, captured three Israeli soldiers in October in a clash in a disputed border region.
Lebanese media reports said Monday that a prisoner exchange could be imminent, but there has been no confirmation.
"Unfortunately for the moment we don't have any information about what has become of our soldiers," Sneh added.
Israel's supreme court is due to convene Tuesday to hear an appeal against the continued "administrative detention" of Sheikh Obeid and Dirani, a system condemned by human rights groups under which Israel holds detainees without charge or trial for renewable six-month periods.
Sheikh Obeid, a local spiritual leader of the Shiite Muslim movement Hizbollah, was kidnapped by Israeli commandos in 1989. Dirani, then a military commander for the rival Amal militia, was seized in 1994 -- JERUSALEM (AFP)
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