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Copyright 2003 The Jerusalem Post
November 17

HEADLINE: Hizbullah stays mum on prisoners swap


Hizbullah remained quiet on Sunday regarding the prisoner exchange deal narrowly approved by the cabinet here last week.

The organization's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, was to have met with German mediators and reply to the proposals, but there was no official word from Beirut.

Nasrallah, in a speech last Thursday, accused Israel of reneging on the deal, but left the door open for a successful conclusion by saying the organization was coordinating with the Lebanese government.

It had been widely expected that the head of the extremist Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi'ite organization would give his answer to the proposals, but nothing was forthcoming by press time.

Security sources implied that Hizbullah and Nasrallah in particular were using silence as part of the psychological warfare being waged against Israel and the families of the missing.

Nevertheless, the sources said Nasrallah is also under pressure from the families of some 20 Lebanese prisoners who are expected to be released as part of the deal, in addition to around 400 Palestinians, Syrians, Jordanians, and others.

In exchange, Hizbullah is to return businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was abducted while on a trip in October 2000, as well as the bodies of three soldiers kidnapped shortly beforehand.

The soldiers, St.-Sgts. Benny Avraham, Omar Sawayid, and Adi Avitan, were kidnapped during an Hizbullah ambush on the Israeli side of the UN-delineated withdrawal line in the Mount Dov region along the border with Lebanon.

They were subsequently declared dead by the IDF and their place of burial unknown. As part of the proposed deal, Israel is also to return the bodies of dozens of Lebanese and Palestinian gunmen.

There was speculation that a German, Stephan Smyrek, arrested in 1997, and convicted of being a member of Hizbullah and of supplying it with information, would be among those released by Israel, reported German weekly Der Spiegel.

The Associated Press news agency said that Israeli and German security sources had declined to comment on the reports.

The entire deal, however, could collapse because of Israel's refusal to release Samir Kuntar, the Lebanese Druse who, as head of a Palestinian terrorist infiltration squad, was responsible for the deaths in Nahariya in 1979 of a father and his two young daughters and a policeman.

Hizbullah is insisting that Kuntar, the longest serving Lebanese prisoner in Israel, be part of the exchange deal.

Another potential obstacle revolves around attempts by the family of missing IAF navigator Lt.-Col. Ron Arad to stop the release under the proposed swap of Believers' Resistance leader Mustafa Dirani.

The family, together with former South Lebanese Army soldier Mustafa Abass, have petitioned the High Court of Justice to instruct Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein to open a criminal investigation against Dirani.

They have charged that Dirani, when he was Amal security chief, tortured Arad, who was captured after ejecting from his plane over Lebanon in 1986, before selling him to Iran nearly two years later.

Abass has submitted an affidavit that he was also tortured by Dirani before being sold to Syria, where he spent 10 years in jail. A preliminary hearing of the petition is to be held on Monday.

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