Israel frees one of 5 Hezbollah guerillas, two bodies of militants
Documents received in 1st swap since war; prisoner, guerillas' bodies handed over for that of drowned Israeli.
Israel on Monday released one of five Hezbollah guerillas in its custody, who suffers a mental illness. The bodies of two others were also repatriated, in exchange for the body of a drowned Israeli civilian which was swept into Lebanon.
The Lebanese daily Al-Akbar reported on Tuesday that as part of a 2004 deal, Hezbollah gave Israel documents written in Arad's handwriting, exactly 21 years after the navigator's fighter jet went down over Lebanon on October 16, 1986
The Lebanese paper did not specify when the documents with Arad's handwriting were written, but reported that they apparently dated to when the abducted Israel Air Force navigator was held in Lebanon.
Sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau said Monday's swap deal also included information from Hezbollah regarding a separate issue, and that the information would be examined in the coming days. They have not confirmed Al-Akhbar's report on Ron Arad.
Chen Arad, brother of missing pilot Ron Arad said Tuesday he would not respond to Lebanese newspaper reports that Hezbollah gave Israel information on his brother until he himself returns to Israel from Germany.
Chen Arad and Ron's daughter Yuval are currently in Germany lobbying to make the release of Iranian prisoner Kazem Darabi contingent on information on Arad.
In a statement on its television station Al-Manar, Hezbollah confirmed that it had transferred information "related to issues of mutual interest, with the intention of achieving progress on them."
"Hezbollah hopes that this goodwill will produce long-awaited progress toward resolving the cases of all prisoners," the statement said.
A statement released by the Prime Minister's Office said the swap was "an additional step in the framework of the negotiations to return abducted soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser."
"Israel expects that this evening's significant step will serve to hasten the processes that have been underway for over a year," the statement said.
The Israeli whose body was returned was named as Gabriel Dwait, a 27-year-old immigrant from Ethiopia, who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea on January 20, 2005.
Several months ago, Hezbollah began hinting that it held Dwait's body. Israeli authorities at the time were unaware of the remains of another Israeli in Lebanon. The Abu Kabir Forensics Institute identified Dwait's body at the border at Rosh Hanikra.
The Lebanese prisoner was identified as 50-year-old Hassan Naim Aqil, a former Hezbollah guerilla who did not fight in the Second Lebanon War. Israel decided to release Aqil, one of Hezbollah men it holds, due to his age and poor health. The bodies of the militants were identified as Ali Wizwaz and Mohammed Damasqiah.
According to a Lebanese security source, the Hezbollah militants were killed in the Second Lebanon War.
"As a goodwill gesture, there will be a swap of a prisoner and the bodies of two Hezbollah fighters for the remains of an Israeli who was not a soldier," the source said.
Israeli security sources also called the exchange a confidence-building measure, aimed at improving the atmosphere ahead or a future prisoner exchange with Lebanon.
Israel and Hezbollah have in recent months been conducting negotiations aimed at securing the release of captured Israel Defense Forces reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser, whose abduction on July 12, 2006 sparked the Second Lebanon War.
The negotiations are being conducted through United Nations-appointed German mediator Ernst Uhrlau. The major sticking point currently in the talks is Hezbollah's demand that Israel first release a large number of prisoners in exchange for information on the two trips, while Israel is insisting that the exchange be carried out in a single stage.
Shlomo Goldwasser, the father of Ehud Goldwasser, told Haaretz that he was aware of the developments, stressing that they "are not directly connected to our son and the abducted soldier Eldad Regev."
A large Hezbollah convoy, with an ambulance carrying the remains of the Israeli, arrived at Naqoura town on the Lebanese side of the border with Israel at around 5 P.M. to complete the swap, sources and witnesses said.
The exchange was not covered live by local media, as the military censor had imposed a day-long blackout.
"I'm very proud of my son who gave up his life for his nation," Hussein Wizwaz, father of one of the two militants, told Reuters as he and relatives of other Lebanese prisoners waited at the border.
An official of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Beirut said the organization acted as an intermediary in the exchange.
Lebanese security officials with knowledge of the exchange said the Lebanese prisoner was later handed over and the swap completed about three hours after it began. They requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported Friday that a prisoner exchange between the sides could be carried out in the near future, given the release of an Iranian prisoner held in Germany last week.
Last week, Germany announced its intention to free Kazem Darabi, an Iranian who was to be released in exchange for information on Arad under the terms of a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hezbollah in 2004.
Several IDF soldiers have been missing in Lebanon since the 1980s and are presumed dead. But there had been no previous report that an Israeli civilian was missing.