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Copyright 2001 Reuters
Reuters/The Jerusalem Post

May 17, 2001

HEADLINE: Lebanese Daily: Israeli Hostages Alive

Reuters (Beirut)

A Lebanese newspaper said yesterday that German mediators had resumed talks with Hizbullah and Israel to secure a prisoner swap and that it was now know that the Israelis are alive.
But the Daily Star quoted an international official as saying mediation efforts to swap four Israeli captives for Lebanese and Arab prisoners in Israel had achieved no tangible results because of conditions imposed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"Information about Israeli prisoners is still shrouded in secrecy and all that was known about them that they are still alive," the English-language daily quoted the official as saying.

"Overcoming obstacles may take time in view of the difficult conditions laid down by Israeli Premier Sharon, including dismantling Hizbullahs's missile bases in the south. Another major obstacle relates to the number of detainees and prisoners Hizbullah wants freed." Hizbullah, backed by Iran and Syria, seized three IDF soldiers in an ambush in the disputed Shaba Farms on the Lebanese-Israeli border in October 2000. Later that month it captured an Israeli reservist colonel who it said was trying to spy on the group.

Hizbullah has said mediation talks were help up because Israel refused to free Palestinian detainees, though it had agreed to hand over Lebanese and Arab prisoners as well as maps of minefields in the former war zone in south Lebanon.

The mediators, led by Germany and the International Committee of the Red Cross, have focused on finding out whether the Israelis - Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham, Omar Suwayed and Elhanan Tennenbaum - were alive and well. Hizbullah has kept details secret, saying it would use the information to maximize its gains in a swap deal.

The Daily Star quoted the international official as saying that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was seeking a UN role on the question of Lebanese detainees, but Israel refused.

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