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Israel-Hezbollah prisoner swap 'imminent'

Latest update : 2008-06-19

A prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah is "expected very soon," according to a Lebanese official, with Hezbollah expected to hand over Ehud Goldwasser (photo) and Eldad Regev, two Israeli soldiers captured in 2006.

Israel and Hezbollah, which is backed by Damascus and Tehran, have held indirect talks aimed at securing the release of two Israeli soldiers captured in July 2006 in a deadly cross-border raid that sparked the 34-day war.

Hezbollah has refused to disclose whether the two soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, are alive or dead. Both were believed to be seriously wounded in the July 12 raid by Hezbollah guerrillas.

Olmert's special envoy for negotiations on the soldiers, Ofer Dekel, on Wednesday met their families "to brief them on the latest developments in the talks," a senior official said.

But another senior Israeli official involved in the talks said the swap "will not take place in the coming days."

Lebanese media have said that among those who could be released is Samir Kantar, currently serving a life sentence for killing two men and a four-year-old girl in a 1979 attack in northern Israel.

The two sides have carried out a series of exchanges of prisoners and remains over the years.

The last swap took place on June 1, with Israel freeing a convicted Hezbollah spy while the Shiite militant group handed over the remains of Israeli soldiers via the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In a speech in January 19, Nasrallah said Hezbollah had the "heads" and "body parts" of soldiers he said the Israeli army had abandoned on the battlefield.

Last October, Israel handed over a Hezbollah prisoner and the remains of two militants in return for the body of an Israeli and information on the fate of  airman Ron Arad, missing since 1986.

Arad is believed to have been captured by the Shiite movement Amal of Lebanesee parliament speaker Nabih Berri.

Israel refuses to declare Arad officially dead. In January 2006, Nasrallah said he was probably dead although he had no proof.

The largest prisoner swap took place in January 2004 when Israel released 400 Palestinians and 31 other people, including 23 Lebanese, in exchange for an Israeli reservist and the remains of three other Israeli soldiers.

Date created : 2008-06-19