Israel, Lebanon Near Deal Involving Prisoner Release

Israel and Lebanon are reportedly close to an agreement under which the remains of an Israeli navy commando would be returned in exchange for the release of Lebanese prisoners.

Israeli security sources confirmed that a deal is close. The secretary-general of the fundamentalist Hezbollah movement said in a Lebanese television interview last week that Israel would release several dozen Lebanese prisoners, as well as the bodies of Hezbollah fighters held by Israel.

In return, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said, the Lebanese government would transfer the remains of Itamar Ilya, a navy commando killed in a failed operation in Lebanon last September.

In the interview, Nasrallah was not specific on the number of prisoners that would be released, but said the discussions were about “far more” than 30.

Israeli security sources also refused to comment on the number of prisoners that would be released. However, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz quoted sources as saying it would be a “heavy price.”

The sources added however that two top Shi’ite leaders, Mustafa Dirani and Sheik Abdel Obeid, who were kidnapped in commando operations, would not be freed.

The sources said that while Hezbollah was setting the terms of the deal with the Lebanese government, the negotiations were being handled through the Red Cross and the Lebanese government, and not with Hezbollah.

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