Photo: AP
Sheikh Kassem
Photo: AP

Hizbullah says prisoner swap talks with Israel 'serious'

Organization's deputy leader stresses two kidnapped Israeli soldiers will be freed only in exchange for freedom of all Lebanese prisoners held in Israel

UN-mediated negotiations to secure a prisoner swap between Hizbullah and Israel are going on in a "serious" manner, but so far there have been no results, Hizbullah's deputy leader said Sunday.


Sheik Naim Kassem also stressed that the two Israeli soldiers, whose capture by Hizbullah last summer triggered a 34-day war between the Jewish state and the Shiite group in Lebanon, would be freed only in exchange for freedom of all Lebanese prisoners held in Israel. "


The negotiations are serious and when they reach any result, it will be announced, because we have agreed not to announce details of the negotiations to secure their success and to keep them away from political and media blackmail," Kassem said.


Hizbullah guerrillas captured the two soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12 that sparked last summer's fighting between the militant group and Israeli forces. A UN ceasefire resolution that ended the war on Aug. 14 called for an unconditional release of the two soldiers.


On the same day the two Israelis were captured, Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah told a news conference that the two soldiers would be released only through a prisoner exchange with Israel.


Israel had initially rejected calls for a prisoner swap to secure the soldiers' freedom, calling instead for their unconditional release. It later accepted a U.N. Mediation in the case.


A special UN envoy dispatched last September by then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been mediating between Hizbullah and Israel on a possible prisoner swap.


'No solution except through an equal exchange'

Hizbullah has not released any details on the conditions of the two soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, or provided any sign they are still alive since their capture. Kassem hoped that the indirect negotiations between Israel and Hizbullah would end "quickly and in a better way," stressing that all Lebanese prisoners must be freed in any deal.


"We are committed to this slogan regardless of the patience and sacrifices we endure. We are confident that the Israelis will eventually comply," He said. Kassem was speaking at a Hizbullah rally in a mosque in Beirut's war-devastated southern suburbs to mark the 28th anniversary of Samir Kuntar's captivity in Israel.


Kuntar is serving a 542-year prison sentence in Israel for killing three Israelis during an attack in 1979 and is one of four men who Hizbullah demands be released by Israel.


"There can be no solution to the prisoners' issue except through an equal exchange that will release our prisoners, on top of them is Samir Kuntar," Kassem said, drawing cheers from the crowd that included Kuntar's mother and family members.


Israel says it will not release Kuntar until it receives information about Ron Arad, an air force navigator who went missing after his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986. His fate is unknown.


Israel and Hizbullah have had prisoner swaps in the past.


During his visit to Lebanon last month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed disappointment that there had been no progress toward the release of the two Israeli soldiers.


פרסום ראשון: 04.23.07, 07:31
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