The sister of the longest-held Lebanese detainee in Israel said on Wednesday she hoped the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hizbullah guerrillas would finally secure his release.
"This is the news we have been waiting for all this time," said Lamise Qantar, 29, who was a toddler when her brother Samir was captured in 1979 during a guerrilla attack in Israel.
"Every time there was an operation in the south we would hope that they had managed to kidnap an Israeli soldier and it didn't happen until today. They have surprised us with the best news in the world."
Hizbullah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, seized two Israeli soldiers in attacks from Lebanon on Israeli border posts on Wednesday, a move that sharply raised regional tension.
The Jewish state has already launched a major military offensive in the Gaza Strip after Palestinian militants abducted one of its soldiers on June 25 in a cross-border raid.
In 2004, Hizbullah and Israel exchanged the bodies of three Israeli soldiers kidnapped in 2000 and an abducted Israeli businessman for the release of 400 Palestinian and 23 Lebanese and Arab prisoners in a German-negotiated deal.
But Samir Qantar remained in jail, although Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah promised at the time that he would be released in a second phase of prisoner exchange talks.
Those talks made little progress and Nasrallah said on Wednesday that the group had decided at the start of 2006 to capture more Israeli troops to swap for the remaining detainees.
"I say to Samir Qantar and his brothers you are now on the route to freedom," He told a news conference.
"I want every mother in Lebanon to put herself today in the position of Samir Qantar's mother. "
Lamise Qantar told Reuters said she had never given up hope.
"Two years ago, the swap was bitter-sweet for us. We were happy that so many detainees were freed but sad that Samir was not among them," She said.
"We never lost hope that he would come home though. I knew that they would not leave my brother in jail and that helped through the difficult days, especially in recent times when there has been a lot of talk about disarming the resistance."
Israel has linked Samir Qantar's release to the fate of Israeli airman Ron Arad, who was shot down during an air raid on south Lebanon in 1986. Hizbullah has said it has no information on Arad and believes he is dead.
Qantar, one of seven brothers and sisters, was 17 when Israeli police arrested him. He was among a four-member guerrilla squad from the Palestine Liberation Front that burst into a flat in Israel's northern city of Nahariya and killed a policeman and another man and his four-year-old daughter.
The man's wife hid in a wardrobe with another daughter but accidentally smothered her while trying to stop her crying.
An Israeli court sentenced Qantar to 542 years in jail, of which he has served more than a quarter of a century.
"I feel today there is no more problem," Lamise said. "First of all, they kidnapped two soldiers and we have only three detainees left in Israel. This time, it is a winning ticket."