Copyright 2004 Jerusalem Post
HEADLINE: Nasrallah threatens more kidnappings
BYLINE: MATTHEW GUTMAN
Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, in his first public statement following Saturday's announcement of a prisoner exchange, vowed Sunday to kidnap additional IDF soldiers if the complete exchange deal is not carried out. The swap is scheduled to go ahead on Thursday.
In the first stage of what is being called a "humanitarian understanding," in exchange for civilian Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of St.-Sgts. Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham, and Omar Sawayid, Israel is to release 400 Palestinians into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while 35 Lebanese and other Arabs are to be flown to Germany and then to Beirut.
A team compiling the names of prisoners to be released is scheduled to publish the names 48 hours in advance of the swap on the Israel Prison's Authority website to enable interested parties to petition the High Court.
When asked during his much anticipated press conference whether Hizbullah would resort to kidnapping again, Nasrallah, cracked a smile and answered, "Yes, yes."
He refused to indicate whether the three soldiers, kidnapped in October 2000, are alive. "On Thursday we will see who is alive or dead," Nasrallah said.
Nor did he reveal whether Hizbullah could help shed light on the fate of Lt.-Col Ron Arad, the IAF navigator who bailed out of his stricken plane over Lebanon in 1986.
"Any positive development in the case of Ron Arad will open the way for the release of more Palestinians and Arabs," Nasrallah said.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, meanwhile, expressed cautious optimism about Arad, saying: "We are closer than ever to getting real information that could shed light on the fate of Ron Arad."
Nasrallah confirmed that the swap is to take place by Thursday, and that by Friday, just ahead of the Muslim feast of Id al-Adha, all the Lebanese prisoners would be home.
After Thursday and Friday, there will be no Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails, except for Samir Kuntar, who headed a Palestinian terrorist squad that infiltrated Nahariya in 1979 and was responsible for the deaths of Danny Hanan, his two daughters, Einat, four, and Yael, two, and policeman Eliahu Shahar.
Israel demanded that Kuntar be left out of the deal, and the German mediators eventually decided to link the Kuntar issue with the revelation of information about Arad.
In addition to the exchange, Israel is to provide Hizbullah with the remains of 59 fighters, clear up the fate of 24 others, and provide detailed maps of mine fields in southern Lebanon.
In the second phase of the understandings - initialed by Hizbullah, Israel, and Germany - two committees will be established for determining the fate Arad and that of four Iranian diplomats missing in Lebanon since 1982. In exchange for "clarification of the fate of Ron Arad," Palestinians and Arabs, in addition to Kuntar, will be released.
With the first phase of the understandings essentially concluded, both sides girded themselves for possible domestic pressure.
"This is the best deal that we could have obtained under the existing circumstances," Mofaz said, echoing the statements of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at Sunday's cabinet meeting.
Mofaz added that, despite the heavy price Israel is paying, "I can look into the eyes of the Arad family and of Israel's citizens and say that we have not left a stone unturned."
Nasrallah defended the omission of Kuntar by stressing several times that Hizbullah will do what it must to free him.
"Not one Lebanese will remain in Israel," he promised, adding that the deal had almost foundered over Hizbullah's determination to repatriate Kuntar.
Provided Hizbullah provides Israel with reliable intelligence on Arad, Kuntar's release might also be complemented by that of two Iranians held in Europe, according to German sources.
Countering criticism that he had abandoned Arad by shipping Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Omar Karim Obeid back to Lebanon, Sharon cryptically answered that Israel has additional bargaining chips "in Europe" that it could use to repatriate Arad.
Nasrallah said Iran had nothing to do with Arad's disappearance. "I categorically deny this and Iran also denies this," he said.
Israel has maintained throughout that the key to Arad is somewhere in Teheran. Sources cited Nasrallah's January 14 return from Teheran and a meeting there with Minister of Intelligence Ali Fallahian as evidence that the two coordinated his response on the Arad issue.
Sharon referred to the prisoner exchange at the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting.
"I would like to inform you that the prisoner deal, as approved by the government, is close to reaching a conclusion," Sharon said. "The State of Israel has again proved that it acts on the basis of the prime value of returning its sons to their homes. This decision has not been an easy one. The government rarely has to deal with such moral dilemmas. In my opinion, we have made the right moral decision.
"A system was decided on in which all the relevant sides will cooperate fully until we discover the fate of Ron Arad and he returns home - something we all hope will happen in the near future."
The exchange is complex. First 400 Palestinian prisoners, most of them at the end of their terms, are to be released to their homes in the West Bank and Gaza. On Thursday morning, a German military transport plane is to fly Tannenbaum and the bodies of the three soldiers to Frankfurt, where their identify will be verified by Israeli officials, then they will be flown back here for military funerals.
The 35 Arab prisoners will be flown to Germany and then onward to Beirut.
The list of prisoners involved in the exchange is to be published on Tuesday, Israeli sources said.
Tannenbaum will will likely be taken to a hospital, depending on his state of health.
Tannenbaum, whose capture has allegedly been linked to criminal activity, is also likely to undergo an extensive debriefing, according to intelligence officials.
IDF chaplains on Sunday visited a cemetery in the North to inspect the graves of Hizbullah gunmen buried there, before their exhumation as part of the exchange, Channel 2 reported.
Later Sunday afternoon, army representatives came to the home of abductee Benny Avraham's parents to update them on the prisoner swap deal. The Avrahams went on record Sunday expressing their anger at not having been informed of the deal and finding out only through the media.
Meanwhile, Israel Radio reports that Mustafa Dirani is preparing to sue the state for millions of Shekels for having been allegedly raped while incarcerated in an Israeli jail.
Tovah Lazaroff and AP contributed to this report.
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