Hizbullah swapped the body of a dead Israeli in exchange for the bodies of two slain fighters and a Hizbullah prisoner at a crossing point along the border on Monday.
Israel's Channel 2 TV identified the Israeli as Gabriel Dwait, a Jewish immigrant from Ethiopia, who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea on January 20, 2005. He was 27 at the time.
An Israeli military vehicle carrying the bodies of the dead Lebanese was seen driving into the no-man's zone along the border at about sundown and returning shortly afterward, crossing paths with Lebanese ambulances headed the other way.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said in a statement that the deal was made ''in the framework of negotiations to return captured soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.'' Lebanese officials said Israel also received information on missing navigator Ron Arad.
Officials did not immediately confirm what was inside the vehicles.
Lebanon's state-run National News Agency reported that Hizbullah handed over to the International Red Cross the body of Israeli civilian and that the ICRC took custody from Israel of two guerrilla bodies and a prisoner.
ICRC officials declined to comment on the swap. United Nations officials from the UN peacekeeping force deployed in southern Lebanon could not be reached for comment. The peacekeeping force, which is headquartered in Naqoura, has in the past been involved in similar swaps.
Although Monday's exchange was limited in scope, the fact that it is taking place could improve the chances of further swaps involving the two Israeli soldiers whose capture triggered a conflict last year between Hizbullah and Israel.
Israeli government and military officials declined to comment Monday on the possibility of a swap.
Regev, Goldwasser not part of dealThe capture by Hizbullah of Israeli soldiers Goldwasser and Regev during a cross border raid in July 2006 sparked the 34-day war between the Shiite Muslim group and Israel. Three other Israeli soldiers were killed in the raid.
Some 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon during the war, most of them civilians. Israel lost about 160 people in the fighting, most of them soldiers, but failed to win the freedom for its soldiers.
It did not appear that the two abducted soldiers were part of the swap Monday, despite a UN Security Council resolution demanding that Hizbullah turn over the soldiers.
New TV, a local Beirut station, reported that the bodies of the two Lebanese would be exchanged for the corpse of an Israeli who had drowned in the Mediterranean and whose body was swept northward by current. It did not elaborate.
A Lebanese official said the Israeli who would be swapped Monday ''died of a cause unrelated to last year's aggression.'' The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
'I wish Samir Kantar were returned before my son'Two ambulances were seen Monday driving through the last Lebanese army checkpoint more than a mile from the Israeli border late afternoon, apparently to pick up the bodies of the Hizbullah guerrillas.
Lebanese troops kept journalists and civilians away from the border and the area where the swap was taking place. About 100 people gathered near the army checkpoint in this Mediterranean Sea fishing port.
Among those waiting was Hussein Wizwaz, in his 60s, who came after hearing from Hizbullah that the body of his son would be repatriated.
Ali Wizwaz, 32, was killed in a major ground battle with Israeli troops during the summer 2006 war in the border village of Maroun al-Ras, his father said.
''I heard on television that there will be some prisoner exchange,'' the man said, adding that he contacted a Hizbullah office and was informed that the bodies of his son as well as guerrilla Mohammed Dimashqiyeh would be returned.
''I wish Samir Kantar and his comrades would be set free before my son, the martyr, because those who are alive are more important than the martyrs,'' the man said. Kantar is the longest-held Lebanese in Israel, imprisoned since 1979 for killing three Israelis.
Dimashqiyeh's aunt, Maryam Saad, waved the portrait of the guerrilla in military uniform over her head and wept, saying she came not even knowing whether the man was among those repatriated.
''Whether him or others, I will not be upset,'' she said. ''All our prisoners and martyrs are equal and the same.''
The state-run news agency in Beirut identified the Lebanese prisoner sent back as Hassan Naim Akil.
Last year, Israeli officials for the first time raised the possibility that the two soldiers held by Hizbullah might not have survived the initial attack. Military officials then said one of the soldiers was critically wounded and the other seriously wounded when they were captured, without giving further details.
Hizbullah has repeated the two captured soldiers would be freed only in exchange for freedom of all Lebanese prisoners held in Israel.
Several Hizbullah members were captured during last year's war. In addition to Kantar, the main Lebanese prisoners held in Israel are Nasim Nisr, a Lebanese-born Israeli captured for having contacts with Hizbullah, and Yehia Skaff, who was detained in 1978 while taking part in a Palestinian militant attack that killed 35 Israelis, are also held in Israel prisoner.
Ahiya Raved and Ronny Sofer contributed to the report