Israel delays response on swap deal with Hizbullah

Published June 23rd, 2008 - 03:58 GMT

The Israeli press on Monday published conflicting reports over a possible delay in the Israel-Hizbullah prisoner swap deal.  The Tel Aviv-based Haaretz newspaper said that the deal would be postponed over "a Hizbullah demand to include Palestinian detainees." The daily added that in meetings held Sunday between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and senior security officials, a number of issues were raised that appear to have delayed Israel's response to the German mediator, Gerhard Konrad. The delay will stall the deal, which until late last week was expected to be finalized in the coming days.
However, the Jerusalem Post daily reported that Israeli officials denied that Israel had received a new demand from the Shiite movement to free Palestinian detainees within the framework of the deal. 
Quoting a political source in Jerusalem, Haaretz said that Olmert is inclined to reject the deal for the detainee exchange as it is currently framed. "Olmert's stance on the issue of a deal with Hezbollah had been favorable until several days ago, in spite of the troubling issue of the release of Samir Kuntar," the source said. "One of Olmert's concerns is the reaction of the cabinet to the deal, which it has to approve before it can be carried out," he added. 
Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin both believe that going ahead with the deal in its current form would create a precedent that could put the life of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as well as the lives of any Israeli soldiers captured in the future, at risk.
Israeli defense officials said it was possible that pronouncing the two captured soldiers dead would force Hizbullah to withdraw its "new demand." As a result, there was reportedly a discussion about declaring the two soldiers "killed in action," which would be a signal to Hizbullah that a deal for their release was no longer on the table. 
For its part, the Maariv daily said that the Israeli security cabinet will convene Wednesday to endorse the swap deal with Hizbullah. 

Meanwhile, the leading Israeli news website Ynet said that Israel will renew its demand for all information in Hizbullah’s possession regarding missing navigator Ron Arad prior to signing the exchange agreement. Arad was captured in Lebanon in 1986, but was disappeared since then.
Hizbullah conveyed to the German mediator that it could not collect more information on Arad.

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