Seal swap deal or price will rise, says Hezbollah-linked daily
Lebanon-based Al-Akhbar publishes warning in response to reports Israel may declare soldiers dead.
A Lebanese newspaper editor apparently familiar with Hezbollah's thinking warned Wednesday that if the prisoner swap with Israel is not consummated soon, the Shi'ite organization will increase its asking price for the two Israeli soldiers it has held captive since July 2006.
The cabinet will vote on the prisoner exchange deal with Hezbollah during its weekly meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Tuesday in a meeting with Karnit Goldwasser, wife of one of the two captive reservists.
The families of the abducted soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, had been pressuring Olmert to bring the matter to a cabinet vote, and plan to convince the ministers to support the deal. The prime minister said he has not yet decided whether he supports the swap.
"What is clear now is the room to maneuver has been shut completely," Ibrahim al-Amin, the editor in chief of Al-Akhbar wrote in an article appearing in Wednesday's edition.
"Israel stands before its only opportunity in the coming days, and if it loses it, then the resistance [Hezbollah] will not view itself as obligated to compromise. Rather it will have a chance to enhance its terms in a thousand ways."
Al-Amin's article is viewed as Hezbollah's response to recent media reports in Israel indicating that the Israel Defense Forces has taken steps towards declaring the two abducted soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, dead.
The article poses some contradictions to Israel's reports on the swap deal.
Israel has stated that as part of the deal, which is essentially closed and has been put into writing, it will to release four Hezbollah militants who were taken captive during the Second Lebanon War; Samir Kuntar, who has been imprisoned since 1979, when he killed the members of the Haran family in Nahariya; and the remains of eight Lebanese citizens buried in Israel.
Al-Amin said, however, that the draft deal includes freeing Palestinians and other prisoners - not just the four Lebanese claimed for release by Israel.
Israel had said it would release some Palestinians but only after the rest of the deal takes place and Goldwasser and Regev are returned to Israel. The release of the Palestinians will be described as a humanitarian gesture, it said.
Al-Amin wrote in his article that as part of the deal, Israel is obligated to clarify what became of the Lebanese hostages who disappeared in 1982, including civilian Yehyeh Sakhaf, who Hezbollah and Iran claim is being held in Israel.
The article also said that as part of the deal, Israel must transfer to Hezbollah maps detailing the locations of land mines and cluster bombs left over during the war.
According to Al-Amin, Israel could have advanced negotiations for the release of Goldwasser and Regev in return for Kuntar alone, immediately after the abduction in 2006. After the war, the price for the exchange would have be increased to include Kuntar as well as Lebanese prisoners jailed in Israel.
With regard to recent reports that Israeli intelligence weeks ago concluded that the abducted soldiers were dead, Al-Amin said German mediators had learned of this assumption months ago.
According to Al-Amin, Israeli sources told the German that it was ready to make the declaration in order to "extort" Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah into relaxing his criteria for the swap.
Al-Amin said Nasrallahr responded to the news by saying: "Olmert can do what he wants. He will return to negotiations, whether declaring them dead or not."