PMO: Prisoner exchange with Hezbollah not likely next week
Father of captive IDF soldier Regev: We are on the verge of a deal, all depends on the government.
Sources at the Prime Minister's office said Friday that a prisoner exchange deal involving the return of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers held captive since July 2006 will likely not be carried out next week, channel 10 reported.
The deal, rumored to involve the release of Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar to the hands of Hezbollah in exchange for IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, has been described as imminent recently by families of prisoners on both sides of the deal.
Tzvi Regev, father of missing IDF soldier Eldad Regev, on Friday said that Israel is on the verge of a deal with Hezbollah to return soldiers seized by the militant group in July 2006.
"We are on the threshold of a deal with Hezbollah and everything depends on the government," Regev said after a meeting held with Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Barak met with the families of Regev and Goldwasser earlier on Friday, who urged him to ratify a prisoner exchange deal with the Lebanon-based militant group as quickly as possible.
Goldwasser's father, Shlomo, said the meeting shed no light on the details of the proposed exchange, nor did it provide the families with any news of their sons' conditions.
"We are working on the assumption that they were kidnapped alive," Goldwasser said, adding: "We demanded Barak work together with the other ministers to advance a deal outlined by [negotiator Ofer] Dekel as soon as possible. We did not get into the details of the price the government will have to pay."
Goldwasser said Barak would not clarify his own stance regarding the deal but said that the obligation of a defense minister is to bring home the soldiers.
Barak also met with the relatives of Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier abducted by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid the month before Goldwasser and Regev were kidnapped.
Shalit's father, Noam, said the meeting left him unsatisfied. The talks covered the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, Shalit said, adding that no plans had been set for a future meeting.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese daily A-Diar reported on Friday that the prisoner swap deal between Israel and Hezbollah could be delayed due to Jerusalem's demand for news on the fate of missing Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad.
The Regev and Goldwasser families plan to meet Sunday with the other cabinet ministers, who also may need to ratify a deal with Hezbollah.
"I am not taking any chances," Goldwasser's mother, Miki, said Thursday when asked if she thinks a prisoner swap may not be approved.
Miki Goldwasser demands a prisoner swap with Hezbollah even if that means releasing Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar. Goldwasser told Haaretz on Thursday that she cannot imagine the government or cabinet not approving a deal.
Goldwasser wrote to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert late Wednesday night after meeting with the coordinator of the prisoner exchange, Ofer Dekel. "Sir, I have had a very difficult day and cannot concentrate," she wrote. "However, I could not try to sleep without writing this letter. I know I have a lot of arguments still to formulate, but time races and I do not know when the righteous cabinet will discuss my son's life."
Goldwasser commented on the abducted soldiers' fate: "Their health situation cannot be verified. Even the head of the Mossad had to admit he is relying on hearsay."
She wrote in the letter that forensic reports and reenactments indicate that Ehud was severely wounded in the attack, but added that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has said the organization had ambulances waiting for the injured soldiers. Hezbollah is known to have advanced medical equipment and specialist doctors, "but moreover, Nasrallah announced that his people abducted living soldiers."
Goldwasser reminded Olmert of Hezi Shai, kidnapped in the Battle of Sultan Yacoub in 1982 and returned in 1985. "For a year and half, no one knew anything about Shai. They told his wife to sit Shiva, but she refused. Hezi came back alive and well."
Goldwasser also mentioned the likelihood of releasing Lebanese prisoners in the deal, including Kuntar, who murdered the Haran family in 1979. She said she had heard that some generals opposed returning Kuntar for the abducted soldiers. "And I ask: How dare they oppose? They were partners to the failures that enabled the kidnapping," she said.
Goldwasser also criticized the state for not releasing Kuntar sooner. "On the claim that if Kuntar is returned, more will be kidnapped in the future, I can only say that had he been returned in the [Elhanan] Tennenbaum deal, you would not be reading my letter today," she said.
"On the other hand, if he is not released, there will be more abductions, maybe even Israeli civilians traveling abroad. Nasrallah is determined to bring back Kuntar at any price."