Israeli Welcomes Hostage Release, Stands Ready to Assist in a Swap

Israel welcomed the release from Lebanon on Thursday of British hostage John McCarthy and said it would “continue to make every effort to bring about the release of all the hostages, including the captured and missing Israeli soldiers.”

In a statement which extended warm greetings to McCarthy and his family, Defense Ministry spokesman Danny Naveh said, “The government of Israel wishes to see the release of additional hostages as the beginning of an accelerated process, at the end of which will come the release of all prisoners and hostages held by various groups in Lebanon.”

McCarthy, who was one of eight Western hostages held in Lebanon, was freed after more than five years in captivity by the Islamic Jihad, a military wing of the Hezbollah, a Shi’ite fundamentalist group backed by Iran.

Islamic Jihad had announced Tuesday that it would release a special envoy, who would convey an important message to U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar.

In a television interview from Damascus following his release, McCarthy said groups who are still holding hostages in Lebanon want to exchange prisoners with Israel.

“I believe they have decided that what they want now is an exchange for their people, the Lebanese held in Israel,” McCarthy told the British Sky cable television network.

“That is what they are holding us for now,” he added.

RED CROSS INSPECTION URGED

Israel is holding several hundred Palestinian and Lebanese Shi’ite prisoners in jail for various terrorist offenses.

In addition, it has detained Sheik Abdul Karim Obeid, spiritual leader of a Hezbollah terrorist faction, whom Israeli commandos seized in Lebanon in July 1989.

While Israel maintains he was arrested for his role in plotting terrorist attacks, it is widely believed Israel seized him to use as a bargaining chip for the return of the seven Israeli soldiers who are still missing in Lebanon.

Naveh called on those holding the missing Israeli soldiers to allow the International Red Cross to see them or provide information about them, following which “Israel will be prepared to conduct negotiations for the release of Lebanese detainees in its hands, in exchange for the release of all Western hostages.”

Uri Lubrani, coordinator for Israeli activities in Lebanon, told Israel Radio, “We can only hope and pray that McCarthy’s release will herald the start of a dynamic process leading to the release of all hostages held in Lebanon, including our own men captured by the terrorists in Lebanon.”

There has been no comment on reports by the Sky network that two rounds of negotiations have been held in Paris during the past year between Israeli representatives and Hezbollah agents on a possible exchange of Israeli prisoners for Lebanese Shi’ites held by Israel.

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