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Copyright 2002 Gulf News
Gulf News

July 31, 2002


BYLINE: Cilina Nasser

Hezbollah is ready to negotiate a recent leaked Israeli offer on exchanging detainees and hostages on condition that the Jewish state make such proposal through the already established German mediators, the top Hezbollah leader said here late on Monday.

"If Israel is serious in its offer, let it propose it through the accredited mediators and we are ready to discuss the issue," Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said during a rally to mark the 13th anniversary of the kidnapping of senior Hezbollah official Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid who was abducted from his home in the Nabatieh village of Jibshit in 1989.

Israeli military radio reported earlier this month that a deal was about to be reached between Israel and Hezbollah in which Lebanese detainees in Israel and 100 Palestinians, including leading Fatah official Marwan Barghouti, would be released in exchange for an Israeli colonel reservist, Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was captured by the Shi'ite party almost two years ago. Nasrallah announced then that he had read about the Israeli offer only in newspapers, affirming that the German delegation did not convey any such offer. But at Monday's rally, Nasrallah said his party could not consider Israel's offer as long as it was raised only in the media. "Negotiating through the media means that the issue is not serious," he said. "What is important is what the mediators say and what (messages) the mediators pass on."

The cleric said that European states have offered him to provide information about three Israeli soldiers, whom his party has snatched from the Israeli-occupied Lebanese Shebaa Farms in October 2000, in return for excluding it from the European Union list of terrorist organisations. He said that European officials told him that they were under huge pressure from the U.S. to put Hezbollah on the EU list of terrorist organisations, which is revised every six months.

According to Nasrallah, European officials suggested that Hezbullah would make a "humanitarian initiative by providing documented information on the Israeli prisoners and allow the (International Committee for the Red Cross) to have access to them." "But I say to you that this issue is not possible at all," Nasrallah said, adding that his party would not sacrifice any opportunity to set free all the Lebanese detainees and as many Palestinian and Arab prisoners as possible. Nasrallah accused Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon of stalling over efforts to reach a prisoner swap deal. "It is clear that Sharon does not want any progress in this file, because it would be a support and assistance for intifada."

He also pointed his finger at former Israeli prime Minister Ehud Barak for "dealing with this file in a political, and not a humanitarian way." According to Nasrallah, only when last year's elections in Israel was near did the mediators approached Hezbollah to tell them: "Are you ready for intensive daily negotiations on both sides of the border to achieve a swap deal?"

Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani, who were abducted from the village of Qsar Naba in 1994 by Israeli commandos, are held without trial and are used by Israel as bargaining chips in the Jewish state's bid to know the fate of Israeli pilot, Ron Arad. Arad was believed to have been captured by Dirani, who was a senior security official in Amal, when his warplane was shot in 1986 as he was shelling residential areas in Sidon.

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