FM Shalom postpones visit to Jordan due to swap deal
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on Tuesday cancelled a visit to Jordan planned for Wednesday. The visit was postponed due to Amman's dissatisfaction with the prisoner exchange deal with Hezbollah, which highlights Jerusalem's refusal to release Jordanian prisoners convicted of murder, while releasing similar Lebanese prisoners, sources in Jerusalem said.
The sources added that the process of releasing the Jordanian prisoners would take a few more weeks, and that there was thus no point in going through with the visit to Jordan while answers to Amman's requests were not yet available.
Jordan is claiming that Israel is detaining 71 Jordanians, some of which were sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Israelis. The Jordanian government spokeswoman last week announced that Israel would soon free 18 prisoners, near the tine of Shalom's visit to the country.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last week slammed Jordan for its harsh criticism of the West Bank separation fence, blaming Amman for strengthening the international opposition to the barrier.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat thanked Hezbollah on Tuesday for including Palestinians in a prisoner swap with Israel but families of prisoners said not enough would go free.
"Now we have to thank our brothers in the Hezbollah for what they have done to release another group (of) the Palestinian prisoners who are suffering too much," Arafat told reporters.
The Palestinian Prisoners Club representing some 7,500 Palestinians held by Israel issued a statement expressing disappointment that only 371 Palestinians, most with no more than two years left to serve in their sentences, would go free.
Arab prisoners driven to lock-up ahead of exchangeAs buses were moving the first batch of detainees to a lock-up in the center of the country Tuesday, ahead of their release in Germany on Thursday, IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon said he was hopeful that the deal with Hezbollah would lead to a breakthrough in the mystery surrounding the fate of Ron Arad.
An initial group of inmates were driven to a lock-up in central Israel in preparation for their departure. The white bus drove into the Sharon Prison under heavy guard. Prisoners peeked from tiny wire mesh-covered windows, and some tried unsuccessfully to spread their fingers in V-signs through the tightly wrought metal.
Speaking at a meeting of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Ya'alon said that the involvement of Iran and Germany could lead to a long-awaited breakthrough.
Ya'alon said that the current deal could lead to new information on the fate of three soldiers taken prisoner after the a battle at Sultan Yakoub in 1982, and IDF soldier Guy Hever, who went missing in 1997. "There is information on the subject," said Ya'alon.
Ya'alon also told the meeting that it was in the interests of Iran and the other parties involved in the current exchange that progress is made on the search for information on Arad. He said that Israel sees Iran as being primarily responsible for Arad's fate.
Deputy Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra said Tuesday that for the sake of the Arad's return, Israel will have no alternative but to free more prisoners in a later phase of the exchange with Hezbollah, including terrorists involved in fatal attacks on Israelis.
The Israel Prisons Service on Monday night published the list of 462 prisoners to be released in the prisoner exchange deal with Hezbollah. The list contains the names of 31 prisoners from Arab countries, 371 Palestinian prisoners and 60 administrative detainees.
Ezra said Tuesday that apart from Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese who took part in a terror attack in which four Israelis died and whose release has been conditioned on definitive information on the fate of Ron Arad, the price of the missing navigator's return would be the release of additional prisoners.
"In my view, once we get the information, in the wake of the unequivocal information we will need to free other people," Ezra told Israel Radio
Asked if the additional prisoners would include men "with blood on their hands," that is, who were personally involved in fatal attacks on Israelis, Ezra replied "I think so, yes. We will certainly do this, for the sake of the return of Ron Arad, who is the longest captive, and the most important and vital to the people of Israel."
"There will be no alternative," he added.
The list was posted on the Prisons Service website, so that anyone who wants to petition the High Court of Justice against a particular release can do so. However, it is considered very unlikely that the court would uphold such a petition. Nevertheless, the list contains more than 400 names of prisoners set to be released, in order to accommodate the possibility of a legal process and to ensure that it does not delay the exchange deal.
According to Israeli sources, which Palestinians will be released is entirely at Israel's discretion; Hezbollah will have no say in the matter. The criteria set by the cabinet are that only prisoners with less than two years still to serve and without "blood on their hands" will be released. However, Israel did promise Hezbollah that only security prisoners, as opposed to ordinary criminals, will be included in the deal. Many of those to be freed will be administrative detainees rather than convicted prisoners.
Nasrallah demandsHezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has issued an eleventh-hour demand that Israel release additional prisoners in the initial phase of the exchange slated to begin on Thursday, a Lebanese newspaper reported Tuesday.
Al-Hayat said in its report that Nasrallah was still interested in carrying out the deal, but that he had informed the German mediator handling the case that he wanted the initial release to include Israeli Druze residents of the Golan who are being held for security offenses.
The demand follows reports that relatives of 15 jailed Golan Druze have strongly pressed Nasrallah in recent days to have their family members included in the exchange.
It remained unclear if Nasrallah was conditioning the deal on the inclusion of the jailed Druze. Israel opposes the inclusion of Israeli citizens in the prisoner exchange. Hezbollah, meanwhile, maintains that the Druze of the Golan are not Israeli citizens, arguing that the strategic heights, captured in the 1967 Six Day War, are occupied Syrian territory.
The deal, step by step* Sunday: Location of the bodies of the Lebanese citizens to be handed over to Hezbollah.
* Monday: Coordinator Major General (res.) Ilan Biran leaves for Germany to complete the arrangements.
* Monday or Tuesday morning: Publication on the Prison Service Web site of the names of the prisoners to be released.
* Wednesday: Final identification of the bodies of the kidnapped Israel Defense Forces soldiers and a sign of life from Elhanan Tennenbaum.
* Thursday: Implementation of the deal - a German plane will fly Tennenbaum and the bodies of the three soldiers from Beirut to Munich. An Israeli plane will fly 36 Arab nationals to Munich; 59 bodies will be transported over land to Lebanon; and 400 Palestinian detainees will be freed into the territories.
* Over the coming weeks: Negotiations to secure information about Ron Arad and the release of terrorist Samir Kuntar.
* If reliable information is received about Arad: Negotiations for the release of the navigator, or his body, in return for additional Arab prisoners.
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