Hizbullah has returned to its original demand that Israel release not only several Lebanese prisoners but also hundreds of Palestinian ones in exchange for kidnapped soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, Ynet has learned.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's specially appointed envoy overseeing MIA affairs, Ofer Dekel, heard the renewed stipulation at a meeting with German mediator Gerhard Conrad in Berlin last week.
The demand was on the agenda at Sunday's security discussion at Olmert's office. The prime minister convened representatives from the various intelligence and defense administrations involved in the negotiations for a special meeting. In attendance were, among others, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the directors of the Mossad and the Shin Bet, Meir Dagan and Yuval Diskin, respectively, and Ofer Dekel.
The prime minister vehemently rejected the renewed demand. Israel has repeatedly said it would not consider including Palestinian prisoners in a deal for Regev and Goldwasser under any circumstances. Hizbullah is insisting on the clause to solidify its standing in the Arab world as patrons of the Palestinian cause.
In the two years that have passed since the Second Lebanon War, Olmert has refused to move on two conditions in the negotiations with Hizbullah – that the deal would be carried out in one stage and not two, which Hizbullah is seeking to raise the price, and that no Palestinian prisoners would be handed over to Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.
While Hizbullah has already agreed to the single-step option, Nasrallah is now insisting on releasing Palestinian prisoners to strengthen his standing following the sectarian violence in Lebanon, which greatly eroded his authority.
Israeli defense officials have long since rejected the nature of the exchange deal based on the assumption that the captive soldiers are not alive. It is inconceivable, they said, for Israel to release living prisoners for corpses.