Nasrallah: Prisoner swap set for on or around July 15
Hezbollah secretary general says report on Ron Arad contains 'definite conclusion' as to his fate.
The prisoner exchange with Hezbollah will take place on or around July 15, the group's leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a press conference on Wednesday in Beirut.
Nasrallah also says a written report that Hezbollah will submit to the German mediator on missing Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad contains "a definite conclusion based on ... witness accounts [gathered] on the ground." He described the effort made in investigating Arad's fate as unprecedented, but he did not give details.
The Hezbollah chief said his men have been investigating Arad's fate since 2004, and have reached a "firm conclusion" on what had happened to him. Nasrallah has in the past said he believed Arad was dead but did not know the location of his remains.
Regarding the welfare of abducted Israeli soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, Nasrallah said that "so far Hezbollah has not handed over any information about the fate of the two soldiers. Anything said in Israel is mere speculation. We have provided no information."
The deal, approved by Israel on Sunday, would see Hezbollah return captured soldiers Regev and Goldwasser, believed to be dead, for five Lebanese prisoners and the remains of around 200 Lebanese, Palestinian and Arab infiltrators to northern Israel.
The capture of Regev and Goldwasser in a cross-border raid in July 2006 triggered the 34-day Second Lebanon War.
Nasrallah said his organization had been in possession of the remains of about 10 Israeli soldiers killed in Lebanon during the Second Lebanon War. He did not indicate what proportion of these remains were returned to Israel in the most recent exchange early last month, in which Lebanese prisoner Nissim Nasser was released back to Lebanon. He also did not say how many of the remains were still being held by Hezbollah.
Nasrallah spoke to the news conference by video link and responded to reporters' questions in the same manner. He refused to say whether he intends to attend the reception planned for the prisoners after their release from Israel, but he did say that "I am not a prisoner." Nasrallah declined to comment when asked whether his organization was planning to carry out new abductions.
The press conference was held to explain the planned prisoner exchange and to prove that it represents an achievement for Hezbollah. Nasrallah hinted that it would embarrass Israel if he were to reveal when Israel agreed to release Samir Kuntar and to complete the exchange. He promised to give a further explanation on the day the prisoners are released.
"Thanks to this deal, if it goes through, Lebanon will be the first Arab state to close the file of its prisoners," Nasrallah said. "There will be no more Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails."
He also noted as an achievement the fact that Israel agreed to release a few Palestinian prisoners in the deal, though it did not specify names or even a number. "The release of Palestinian and Arab prisoners was a principle we worked on in the negotiations," Nasrallah said.
Britain's Foreign Office announced on Wednesday its decision to declare the military wing of Hezbollah a terrorist organization due to its support of terror in Iraq and Israel. Until now only the external security organization had been banned as a terrorist organization.
"The UK's decision today to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is suspicious, but an honor and a medal for us and does not surprise me, as this is a founding country for Israel," Nasrallah said. He also denounced author Salman Rushdie's recent knighthood.