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Copyright 2004 Maariv
January 24

HEADLINE: POW swap finalized

Elhanan Tennenbaum expected home on Tuesday. Deal also includes bodies of three IDF troops who died in Hezbollah captivity.

BYLINE: Eilil Shahar and Yoni Herch

The German mediator, Ernst Uhrlau has confirmed that Israel and Hezbollah have reached a POW exchange agreement.

Attorney Zvi Rish, who represents Mustafa Dirani and Sheik Obeid has also confirmed the swap. Rish said tonight: "The prisoner exchange deal has been finalized and will go through on Tuesday".

Political sources in Jerusalem said that progress has been achieved about a week ago; prompting talks coordinator, General (reserves) Ilan Biran to head to Germany. Biran returned to Israel this past week and updated Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the new understandings reached. The Prime Minister has apparently approved the new agreement, paving the way for a deal. The sources refused to provide further details about the exchange.

Sources close to the Prime Minister told Army Radio that both sides have agreed to avoid issuing statements on the matter. Even so, the sources hinted that a breakthrough in POW talks has indeed been made.

According to Attorney Rish, Dirani and Obeid will be released in exchange for Elhanan Tenanbaum and the bodies of the three missing soldiers. Rish added that at this point, convicted murderer Samir Kuntar would not be set free. Another 400 Palestinian prisoners, as well as dozens of prisoners from Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan and Libya are also expected to go free as part of the deal.

Efrat Avraham, sister of abducted soldier Benny Avraham, told Maariv Online: "We don't know anything. Nobody talked to us. Finally getting some information about your brother after three and a half years is bound to create tension. Right now we're sitting at home, waiting and trying to find out what's going on".

Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, published in London, yesterday reported that Israel would release 15 Israeli-Arab prisoners in the framework of the POW swap with the Hezbollah. The newspaper did not name the prisoners slated for release, but said they were serving time for security offences.

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