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German spy chief en route to Lebanon

Head of country's foreign intelligence service on his way to Beirut, fuelling rumors Germany may take part in mediating prisoner swap between Israel, Lebanon

Reuters
Published: 09.01.06, 00:35 / Israel News

The head of Germany's foreign intelligence service, the BND, is on route to Lebanon, a Foreign Ministry official said on Friday, fuelling speculation Germany may play a role in a prisoner swap between Israel and Lebanon.

 

"I can only confirm ... That (BND Chief Ernst) Uhrlau is in the meantime on his way," Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler told N24 television. "But I cannot confirm that there has been any concrete negotiations.

 

"What is known, is that the Israeli state is hoping for and also expects from us to do what we can. And we are happy to do this," Erler said.

 

There has been widespread speculation that Germany may take on a mediation role between Israel and Lebanon in order to bring about a prisoner swap.

 

But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier appeared earlier this week to rule out the possibility that Germany would mediate between the two sides.

 

A BND source was also quoted by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung as saying that rumors of a mediating role were without substance.

 

Berlin has helped mediate between Israel and Hizbullah in the past, with both Steinmeier and Uhrlau involved in brokering a 2004 Israel-Hizbullah hostage swap, although in different roles than their present ones.

 

A senior Israeli political source said earlier on Thursday that Israel was prepared to discuss freeing Lebanese prisoners for two soldiers held hostage by Hizbullah if the two are handed over to the Lebanese government.

 

The source said any negotiations would likely take place through a mediator and would be conducted with the Lebanese government and not Hizbullah.

 

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