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Israel, Hezbollah prisoner swap underway

Latest update : 2008-07-16

Hezbollah have returned the bodies of two dead Israeli soldiers as part of a prisoner swap process with Israel. Israeli authorities will hand over the five Lebanese prisoners after the soldiers' remains are identified through DNA testing.

Read the France 24 article "Lebanon prepares to welcome 'heroes' home".


Israel and Hezbollah are carrying out a UN-brokered prisoner exchange on Wednesday, a day after the Israeli cabinet gave its final approval 22 to 3.


Hezbollah handed over two coffins, said to contain the remains of Israeli soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, which “will be taken by helicopter to a forensics institute in Tel Aviv” to be identified through DNA testing. Only “then the rest of the process will kick in” with “five prisoners, including Samir Qantar, handed back to the Lebanese”, according to FRANCE 24/GRN correspondent Annette Young reporting from the Rosh Haniki crossing on the Israeli-Lebanese border.


The process overseen by the International Commmittee of the Red Cross promises to be “lengthy”.


Israel will release five prisoners – including Samir Qantar, in jail since 1979 for killing two men and a child. The four others include Khaled Zidan, Maher Kurani, Mohammed Sarur and Hussein Suleiman, fighters captured during the 34-day Lebanon war in 2006. That devastating war killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon and 160 in Israel.


Israel is also transferring to Lebanon the remains of some 200 Palestinian and Hezbollah fighters exhumed over the past week. A truck carrying the coffins of the first of those fighters included has crossed the Israeli border towards Lebanon.




Mourning in Israel, celebration in Lebanon


Israeli President Shimon Peres on Tuesday pardoned the five Lebanese, saying it was "not a happy day for having to free such murderers but we have a moral responsibility to bring our soldiers home."


The mood in Israel has been sombre. Samir Qantar is a Lebanese Druze and the longest-serving Arab prisoner in Israel. He was sentenced to several life terms for a 1979 attack that killed two men and a little girl, and “still haunts Israel”, according to FRANCE 24’s special correspondent Marc de Chalvron.


In Lebanon, celebratory banners and flags are flying along the main coastal highway from Naqura to Lebanon's southern port city of Sidon and the cabinet has declared Wednesday a national holiday. Israel's Jerusalem Post newspaper has billed the festivities as "a celebration of evil."


“There are a lot of questions in Lebanon as to whether this was worth it,” says France 24 correspondent Bojan Preradovic. While the “Hezbollah regards it as a victory”, for some, the war may have been “a price too high to pay”.


Israel still awaits information on navigator Ron Arad, missing since his plane was shot down over Lebanon in October 1986.  A Hezbollah report said he was probably dead.


'A victory for resistance'



The Islamist Palestinian movement Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, called the prisoner swap  a "victory for the resistance."


"It proves that a useful way to liberate prisoners from the jails of the occupation is to capture Zionist soldiers, since the occupation refuses to release prisoners and keeps arresting more of them," spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement.


Hamas is also negotiating a similar exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured in a June 2006 raid.

Date created : 2008-07-16