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Copyright 2004 Jerusalem Post
January 27

HEADLINE: Prisoner swap includes killers


Israel geared up Monday for Thursday's highly anticipated prisoner exchange, publishing a controversial list of Palestinian prisoners tapped to go free, working to find new avenues to rescue missing airman Lt.-Col. Ron Arad, and digging up the remains of 59 Hizbullah fighters.

Hizbullah has added a last minute condition to the deal, Israel Radio quoted a report by the Lebanese daily Al-Hayat. It wants to secure the release of a group of Druze Israeli prisoners.

Israel will release 460 prisoners, 31 of them from abroad, mostly from Lebanon. These have been taken to a holding facility for final checks before deportation. Among them are Lebanese who killed or wounded soldiers in south Lebanon. They will be deported.

Of those remaining, 371 are Palestinian security prisoners, to be released Wednesday, and 60 Palestinians held in administrative detention. Their release date has not been announced.

Ali Balhatz Hassan Yusef was sentenced to life in 1992 for shooting and killing a soldier and wounding two others in Lebanon. Jiad al-Katsfi Hassan Hassin was sentenced to life in 1988 for shooting and killing an IDF officer and wounding four soldiers in Lebanon.

Anwar Yassin Mahmud Mubada was sentenced to 30 years in 1987 for killing three soldiers and wounding five in Lebanon.

A spokeswoman for the Prisons Service stressed, however, that "apart from a few Lebanese prisoners involved in incidents in south Lebanon where soldiers were wounded or killed, no other prisoners being released have blood on their hands."

She added that the final number of prisoners released won't exceed 400, as agreed by the government. The rest of the names were to be published after they were reviewed by the Justice Ministry.

Among those to be freed are failed suicide bombers, spies, terrorists who fired but missed their targets, and those who tossed Molotov cocktails and stones.

Terror victims' groups have threatened to petition the High Court of Justice, possibly delaying the swap, should militants on the list prove to have been directly involved in terrorist attacks.

Security officials criticized the fact that two foreigners who planned to carry out suicide attacks on Hizbullah's behalf are among the 435 prisoners scheduled to be released in the German-mediated deal struck with the Hizbullah in exchange for the return of IDF soldiers St.-Sgts. Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan, and Omar Sawayid, and businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum.

Security officials told The Jerusalem Post that they were concerned that the release of Stefan Josef Smyrek, a German tourist arrested by the Shin Bet on November 28, 1997, after he flew to Israel from Amsterdam, and Jihad Shuman, who bore a British passport with the name of Gerard Shuman and who was arrested in January 2001, would only serve to encourage other foreign nationals to carry out attacks against Israelis in the future.

"The same could be said regarding other terrorists scheduled for release as there is nothing to stop them from perpetrating attacks against Israelis in the future," a security official said, adding: "None of those released have blood on their hands."

Under the parameters of a swap announced Saturday in Germany, Israel is to receive Tannenbaum and the three soldiers in exchange for the release of 400 Palestinian prisoners and 36 Arab prisoners, and the remains of the Lebanese fighters.

Government and Shin Bet officials have vowed that none of the prisoners will have "blood on their hands." Shin Bet officials have clarified that most of the prisoners have only months left in their sentences and are all up for parole within three years. Meanwhile, work began Monday on the exhumation of the bodies of the Hizbullah Lebanese fighters from near Kibbutz Amiad in the North.

Due to pouring rain, the IDF erected awnings covered with nylon sheets over parts of the cemetery for enemy dead.

Members of the IDF's Chaplaincy Corps worked in rivers of mud to excavate and identify the fighters' remains, all under the inspection of German officials sent by mediator Ernst Uhrlau to catalogue the Lebanese.

The area was declared a closed military zone by OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz to enable the work to go ahead unhindered.

Military sources said that because of the adverse weather conditions it had been decided to start the work straight away to avoid any delay in the transfer of the bodies to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The sources noted that the process is complex and includes several factors such as certified identification of the bodies after exhumation by the IDF chaplains and representatives of the German mediators, while ensuring the sanctity of the dead.

In an effort to prevent these prisoners' release, the Terror Victims Association (TVA) intends to sift through the lists of prisoners and by Wednesday morning petition the High Court of Justice in the hopes of delaying or even annulling the German mediated understanding with Hizbullah.

"In the understanding there are promises that they will change criteria on who is judged a terrorist in order to free even more in the next round. This is something we will not allow to happen," said TVA spokesman Uriah Bachrach.

However, with the full weight of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the cabinet behind the deal, the chance of petitions being accepted by the High Court are very small.

The publication of the list by the Prisons Service on Monday night was delayed by the Justice Ministry, prison officials said. Prisons Service spokesman Ofer Leffler said 60 out of the 400 prisoners scheduled for release included 30 Palestinians who would be sent back to the territories and 30 others who would be flown to Germany.

According to Leffler, the 60 prisoners were charged with a variety of felonies ranging from membership in an enemy organization to perpetrating shooting attacks or illegally entering Israel and are affiliated with all the different terrorist organizations including the Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and Hizbullah. Other Palestinian security prisoners will be released from two military prisons, the Ketziot Prison in the South and the Ofer detention center near Ramallah.

Leffler said all the prisons had been placed on high alert in preparation for any rioting that may occur after the names of those scheduled for release are made public and inmates realize that their names do not appear on the list.

"We have taken every possible scenario into account and we are on high alert," said Leffler.

The second phase of the understanding largely deals with locating and repatriating Ron Arad and other Israeli MIAs in Lebanon. In his Sunday press conference, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah stated that "there are additional Israelis in Lebanon." While this could mean Zachary Baumel (an American citizen), Tzvi Feldman, and Yehuda Katz, missing since the 1982 Sultan Yakoub battle, it might also hint that Arad is within Nasrallah's grasp.

While Israel has determinedly pointed an accusatory finger at Teheran, Iran has vehemently denied that Arad is in Iran.

Three Iranian terrorists who assassinated three Kurdish activists in Berlin's Mykonos Restaurant in 1992, in addition to an Iranian in London and another terrorist in France could be included in the swap for Arad. To sweeten the deal, Israel will also have to release additional Arab prisoners, mostly Palestinians.

Following reports Monday that Israeli Azzam Azzam, charged by Egypt for espionage, might also gain freedom in an expanded swap, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom warned Monday against unwarranted exuberance regarding the second phase of the understandings with Hizbullah.

"We hope that the changes that have occurred in the recent past in Iran, will bring about changes in their treatment of the issue of Ron Arad," he said at a press conference with his Australian counterpart Alexander Downer. "On the other hand we should not be misled by high hopes and we need to be realistic that that we are not disappointed in the future," he added.

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