Israel denies Hezbollah prisoner swap stalled

The Israeli government denied reports it was backing off a planned prisoner swap with Hezbollah.

Israeli media were dominated Monday by reports that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose associates last week said a deal was in the works to retrieve two soldiers held by the Lebanese militia, was rethinking the exchange after Hezbollah said it wanted hundreds of jailed Palestinians released.

Israeli officials had indicated they would agree to free only a handful of Lebanese terrorists from prison in exchange for abducted army reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, whose condition is not known.

Hezbollah has been tight-lipped about the German-mediated swap talks, though Lebanese political sources confirmed there was recent progress.

Olmert’s office disavowed Monday’s news reports, which Israeli Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter said may have been planted by the government’s critics.

“I think that publishing news items – partial news items, some of them true and some not – is simply an action taken by people who have personal, selfish and non-patriotic interests,” Dichter told Army Radio.

“I think the deal to release Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser is in its final stretch,” he said.

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