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Copyright 2002 Jerusalem Post
Jerusalem Post

April 12, 2002

HEADLINE: Hizbullah offers to trade Tannenbaum

BYLINE: Matthew Gutman

Hizbullah continued to attack Israel from Lebanon yesterday, firing mortars and anti-tank grenades at IDF positions on Mount Dov and Mount Hermon.

The IDF responded by pounding Hizbullah positions inside Lebanon with artillery and missiles from fighter jets, a Northern Command spokesman said. There were no IDF casualties.

"If these attacks continue, despite the pressure of non-Shi'ite Lebanese groups trying to stop Hizbullah's attacks for fear that Beirut will be targeted," said the spokesman, "eventually Israel will be forced to retaliate. If it does, Hizbullah will be solely responsible."

Yesterday's barrages came hours after Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah offered to swap Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was abducted from Europe in October 2000, in exchange for a guarantee that Israel would spare the lives of some 100 Palestinians still holed up in Jenin's refugee camp.

Nasrallah also said he would work with any mediator to hash out the details of the swap.

A Beirut representative for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Henri Fournier, met yesterday with the head of Hizbullah's security committee, Wafik Safa, to discuss the offer, which Hizbullah said the Red Cross would follow up in shuttle trips among Lebanon, Geneva, and Israel. In response, Tannenbaum's son appealed in English on Channel 1 last night to US Secretary of State Colin Powell to intervene.

"For the first time since my father's abduction, Hizbullah publicly suggested a deal that would bring him back home. I implore you at this time to intervene personally with Hizbullah's patron, President Assad of Syria, to ensure that no harm comes to my father, who is unwell, and to expedite his safe return to us as soon as possible."

Israeli officials chose not to respond publicly to Nasrallah's offer. One senior Defense Ministry official said, "Look at [Nasrallah's] record. How can we take [the offer] seriously? He is an expert at manipulation." He added that it would in no way affect Israel's sweeping of Palestinian towns for terrorists.

Another senior government official said the government is treating Nasrallah's offer very cautiously, because it is ruse aimed only at hurting Israel and inflicting greater psychological damage on the families of its MIAs and POWs.

Unlike other Israeli hostages held by Hizbullah, Tannenbaum - said to have been abducted while on business in Lausanne, Switzerland - was a civilian captured in the heart of Europe, not along the Israeli-Lebanese border. A week before his abduction Hizbullah captured three Israeli soldiers on the Israeli side of the border.

Officials close to the case believe the swap offer might in part be an effort by Hizbullah to deflect domestic flak for its escalation of attacks on Israeli positions in recent weeks. By putting Israel off guard, and reminding it even obliquely that Tannenbaum's fate rests in their hands, Hizbullah and Nasrallah believe they are sparing Beirut or other Lebanese cities from a massive Israeli retaliation to the ongoing bombardments, the officials said.

Danny Eisen, director of the International Coalition for Missing Israeli Soldiers (ICMIS), also cautioned against undue optimism. He warned that every move and word out of Hizbullah, which is notorious for manipulating the media and Israel's heartstrings, must be very carefully examined. "Kidnapping," said Eisen, "is the cheapest and perhaps most formidable weapon in the terrorists' hands and can be waved cruelly in front of Israeli families for an indefinite period of time."

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