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Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
September 23

HEADLINE: Hanegbi: Barghouti will not be released in prisoner swap


Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said Tuesday that Israel will not release jailed Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti as part of a prisoner swap with the Hizbullah guerillah group.

"Nobody will release this man," Hanegbi told Israel Radio. Israel has reportedly agreed to release 400 Arab prisoners, half of them Palestinians, as part of a deal with Hizbullah in exchange for the return of businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three missing soldiers.

"Israel filed a very serious indictment against Marwan Barghouti," Hangebi said. "He is charged with being personally responsible for the murders of dozens of Israelis."

The details were revealed in a news agency report on Monday, as Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah pledged that the organization would "exert its utmost efforts" to obtain information about the fate of missing IAF navigator Lt.-Col. Ron Arad, whose plane went down over Lebanon 17 years ago.

A Palestinian source, close to the talks, said negotiators agreed in principle on a list of 400 Arab prisoners to be released by Israel, including more than 200 Palestinians as well as Syrians, Jordanians and Lebanese.

According to a report in the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, the head of the Israeli negotiating team left for Berlin on Sunday and met with German mediator Ernest Uhrlau in an effort to complete the final details of the agreement.

Al-Quds quoted Israeli sources as saying that negotiations are likely to be concluded in a matter of days.

The report quoted a senior PA source, allegedly close to the deal, as saying that West Bank Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti tops the list of Palestinians that Hizbullah is seeking to free, although negotiations are continuing over the names.

Barghouti is on trial on charges relating to terrorist atrocities in which 26 people were killed. He has been detained since being snatched by security forces from his West Bank hideout about a year ago.

The PA source also maintained that as part of the negotiations, Hizbullah had asked Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and even Arafat's mainstream Fatah organization to formulate lists of those detainees they would like to see released.

Barghouti tops all three lists, the source said. Barghouti is increasingly seen as a possible successor to Arafat, and his popularity has been boosted by more than a year spent in jail.

Nasrallah, in an interview with the Lebanese daily As-Safir, reiterated that Hizbullah has no information about Arad but would now actively seek news of him in order to obtain details about eight missing Iranian diplomats and the release of more Palestinian prisoners not included in the proposed exchange.

"We have a lot of motivation and reasons to look into Arad's fate," he was quoted as saying. An English-language account of the interview was carried on the Jordanian Web site albawaba.com.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said on Monday he will raise the issue of Arad with a grandson of Iran's late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at an interfaith meeting soon. Albawaba.com reported Metzger's meeting is in Kazakhstan.

Observers here, however, maintained that the PA has not been involved in the negotiations and that the inclusion of Barghouti in any proposed deal represents, for now at least, wishful thinking.

Nasrallah said Hizbullah recently allowed a German mediator to see Tannenbaum to make sure he is alive and well and to carry a written letter from the retired IDF colonel to his relatives.

In exchange, the government allowed the mediator to visit Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani two Lebanese leaders it snatched in the late 1980s and early 1990s in order to win the release of Arad in prison and carry letters from them to their families in Lebanon, Nasrallah was quoted as saying.

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