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Copyright 2002 Jerusalem Post
Jerusalem Post

February 25, 2002

HEADLINE: Progress reported in prisoner-exchange talks

BYLINE: David Rudge

HAIFA (February 25) - Progress appears to have been made in German-mediated negotiations over a prisoners' exchange deal between Hizbullah and Israel, according to reports from Lebanon.

Lebanese newspapers said yesterday tangible efforts had been made toward reaching an agreement over the return of three missing IDF soldiers and Israeli businessman and reserve colonel Elhanan Tannenbaum.

According to the reports, which have been neither confirmed nor denied in Israel, Hizbullah would be willing to issue a video of Tannenbaum in exchange for maps detailing all minefields in Lebanon.

Tannenbaum was snatched by Hizbullah shortly after the kidnapping of the three soldiers, St.-Sgts. Binyamin Avraham and Omar Suwayed and Sgt. Adi Avitan.

Hizbullah has refused repeated requests by the International Committee of the Red Cross to be allowed to visit the hostages. Instead, the organization has insisted on the release of Lebanese and Arab prisoners held by Israel as a precondition for reliable information about the fate of the hostages.

According to the latest reports, a phased agreement is being proposed under which Israel would release Lebanese prisoners in return for information regarding the kidnapped soldiers. The release of other Arabs, including Syrians and Golan Heights Druse as well as Palestinians, would be part of the price for a final exchange deal.

The reports follow a statement by Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah that an agreement had been reached in principle. The last issue is the number of Lebanese and Arab prisoners to be released.

According to Lebanese press reports, German mediators met with leading Hizbullah officials last month and there was also a rare meeting last Tuesday between Nasrallah and Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The Lebanese press said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had taken charge of the negotiations over an exchange deal. Israel has apparently made clear that it will not release long-term Lebanese detainees Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani until it receives reliable information over the fate of IAF navigator Ron Arad, who disappeared in Lebanon in 1986 after bailing out of his plane.

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