BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — Israel and Hezbollah will exchange
prisoners in a two-stage deal in which the militant Lebanese group
promises to obtain information about Israel’s most famous
missing serviceman and Israel releases Lebanon’s longest-held
prisoner within three months, the Hezbollah leader said
yesterday.

Kate Green
AP PHOTO
Hassan Balhas, left, and Fatima Azzam Balhas, parents of Lebanese prisoner Ali Balhas, held in Israel for 11 years, sit in front of their house in the southern Lebanese village of Sidiqine yesterday.

The deal begins with an exchange of prisoners and human remains
Thursday and Friday, and will proceed to the case of missing
Israeli airman Ron Arad and negotiations for the release of more
prisoners, Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, told a
news conference.

“After Thursday and Friday, there will be no Lebanese
prisoners in Israeli jails,” Nasrallah said. “But the
door is still open and the second stage will be very important,
especially for the Palestinians.”

He spoke a day after the deal, negotiated with German help, was
announced.

After releasing 400 Palestinian prisoners to the West Bank and
Gaza Strip, Israel will bring 23 Lebanese prisoners and 12
prisoners from other Arab countries to Munich where the swap will
take place, the officials said.

Nasrallah said the Palestinians would include members of Hamas
and Islamic Jihad, the groups responsible for most of the suicide
bombings in Israel.

It will be Israel’s most significant release of
Palestinian prisoners since Ariel Sharon became prime minister in
2001.

The remains of 59 Lebanese killed in battle also will be handed
to Lebanese authorities at a border crossing in south Lebanon,
Nasrallah said.

Hezbollah has promised to free Israeli businessman Elhanan
Tannenbaum and three Israeli soldiers — all captured by the
guerrilla group in October 2000.

Tannenbaum is known to be alive. But Nasrallah refused to say
whether the three Israeli soldiers were dead or alive. The world
will find out Thursday, he said.

Hezbollah guerrillas captured the three soldiers after a
shootout on the Lebanese-Israeli border in which the troops were
wounded. Israel has declared Adi Avitan, Beni Avraham and Omar
Sawaid to be dead.

In the deal’s second stage, Nasrallah said a committee
will be formed to seek information on Arad and four Iranian
diplomats who disappeared in Lebanon in 1982 during the Israeli
invasion.

“Any positive development in the case of Ron Arad will
open the way for the release of more Palestinians and Arabs,”
Nasrallah said.

In Jerusalem on yesterday, Prime Minister Sharon said he had
been assured Hezbollah would make every effort to find out what
happened to Arad, who was captured after his plane was shot down in
1986.

“A system was decided on in which all the relevant sides
will cooperate fully until we discover the fate of Ron Arad and he
returns home — something we all hope will happen in the near
future,” Sharon told his Cabinet.

Arad contacted his family in the first two years of his capture,
but nothing was heard after 1988.

Nasrallah said further talks are also planned to secure the
release of Lebanon’s longest-held prisoner in Israel, Samir
Kantar.

Kantar has been in an Israeli prison since 1979 for killing
three members of an Israeli family during a Palestinian militant
raid into northern Israel. Kantar, who belonged to the Palestine
Liberation Front, is serving a 542-year sentence.

“Samir Kantar will be released as soon as the negotiations
are finished within two or three months,” Nasrallah said.

Kantar’s release has been a key Hezbollah demand, and
Israel is believed to have regarded him as a bargaining chip for
information on airman Arad.

An Israeli official said Kantar’s release depended on
information about Arad.

“If, through the negotiations, Israel is provided with
real evidence on Ron Arad, meaning a tangible sign of life or
DNA/pathological evidence if he is dead, then Israel will release
Samir Kantar only _ not any other Arab prisoners,” the
official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters after
Sunday’s Cabinet meeting.

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