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Copyright 2003 Haaretz
September 21

HEADLINE: Ministers express misgivings about Hezbollah swap

BYLINE: Amos Harel

Release of dozens of Palestinian prisoners cited as stumbling block by hawkish cabinet members

Opposition is growing in the cabinet to a proposed prisoner exchange with Hezbollah, particularly if the swap entails the release of dozens of Palestinian prisoners. Justifying their opposition, ministers from right-wing parties said that such a prisoner release would provide incentive for future attempts to kidnap Israelis.

Last week, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah claimed that a prisoner exchange deal was near completion, and that it would include the release of Palestinian prisoners. An exchange deal under such terms had been discussed, Israeli officials confirmed, even though Israel has in the past refused to consider a Palestinian prisoner release as part of such an agreement with Hezbollah.

Under the deal currently in the works, the Lebanese organization will release Israeli citizen Elhanan Tannenbaum, as well as the remains of three kidnapped Israel Defense Forces soldiers, Benny Avraham, Omar Suwad and Adi Avitan, who are presumed dead. Israel, for its part, will free Lebanese nationals who are currently in its prisons; these would include Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Abd al Karim Obeid.

On Friday, Minister of Housing and Construction Effi Eitam told Haaretz that he would oppose the "massive release of Palestinian prisoners" in a deal with Hezbollah. Eitam explained: "Notwithstanding the personal anguish I feel for the kidnapped [Israelis], and my commiseration with their families, it would be wrong to go too far. We must uphold the state's interests.

"The moment kidnapping proves itself as an effective means of releasing prisoners who have `blood on their hands,' the lives of all Israelis everywhere will be at risk," continued Eitam. "That could lead to an increase in kidnap operations."

Should the Palestinian prisoner release be included within the deal, "it would be a major gain for Hezbollah," Eitam said, adding that Past experience had taught that released prisoners return to terror.

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