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Israel, Hezbollah Move Toward Prisoner Swap


Israel and the Islamic guerrilla group Hezbollah in Lebanon are moving toward a prisoner swap. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

An Israeli negotiator went to Europe to receive a Hezbollah report on missing Israeli airman Ron Arad, whose plane went down in Lebanon in 1986. Arad was captured alive by Shiite militants, but disappeared two decades ago. Hezbollah has claimed that the trail on Arad went cold.

The report is the latest step in a broader prisoner swap, in which Israel will exchange several Lebanese militants and the bodies of Hezbollah fighters for two Israeli soldiers whose capture sparked the Lebanon War two years ago. The soldiers are believed to be dead.

Both sides say the prisoner exchange could take place as early as next week.

The deal has aroused controversy here because Israel plans to release Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar, responsible for a 1979 terrorist attack that Israelis perceive as one of the most brutal ever. Kuntar was convicted of killing a man in front of his four-year-old daughter and then crushing her head with his rifle butt. The man's wife accidentally smothered their two-year-old daughter in an effort to keep her quiet in a hiding place in their apartment.

Kuntar also killed an Israeli policeman, whose family has appealed to Israel's Supreme Court to stop the prisoner exchange. The policeman's brother, Yoram Shachar, says releasing Kuntar is an outrage.

Shachar told Israel Radio that Kuntar is an arch-murderer who destroyed his family. He said releasing him only serves the interests of Hezbollah.

Other critics say it is wrong to exchange living Arab prisoners for dead Israeli soldiers.

Nevertheless, the Israeli Cabinet approved the prisoner swap a week ago. Officials say Israel has a responsibility to bring its servicemen home, dead or alive.

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