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Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet voted to approve a prisoner swap deal with Hezbollah that would bring home two Israeli soldiers.

The prime minister urged his Cabinet at the start of Sunday’s meeting to approve the deal and bring an end to the saga of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, whose capture by Hezbollah guerrillas sparked the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon. It is suspected that both soldiers either died during their capture or later of their wounds.

Following several hours of debate, the Cabinet approved the controversial motion Sunday afternoon with a majority of 22 ministers.

Indirect negotiations for the soldiers’ release have taken place for two years. The deal will likely end in the release by Israel of five Lebanese terrorists and 10 dead Lebanese soldiers.

Among those likely to be released is Samir Kuntar, who is serving a life sentence for a 1979 border attack. Kuntar long has been held as a bargaining chip for the return of Israeli air force navigator Ron Arad, who was shot down over Lebanon in 1986.

Israeli defense officials at the meeting said the deal would lead to more kidnappings and urged the Cabinet members not to approve it.

“I admit that I have deliberated for a long time on this issue due to its many facets — morally in regard to the background in which we are dealing with matters, from the perspective of the history that has accompanied these contacts and, mainly, with regard to future consequences,” Olmert said at the start of the meeting.

“In the end, we are the ministers who bear the supreme, collective responsibility for government decisions and we will need to bear this responsibility in such a way that we will be able to look in the eyes of the members of the Goldwasser, Regev, Arad, Haran and Shalit families, and in the eyes of every citizen of the State of Israel, and mainly so that we will be able to face our own consciences and say that our consciences were clean at the time we made these critical decisions.”

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