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Israeli Cabinet Approves Prisoner Swap with Hezbollah


Israel has given a green light to a controversial prisoner exchange with the Islamic guerrilla group Hezbollah in Lebanon. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Israel's Cabinet overwhelming approved the prisoner swap with Hezbollah by a vote of 22 to 3.

Under the deal, Israel will release five Lebanese prisoners, including a top militant, as well as the bodies of 200 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters. Hezbollah will return two Israeli soldiers whose capture sparked the Lebanon War two years ago. They are believed to be dead.

The deal is controversial because Israel will release Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar, who was responsible for a brutal attack in 1979. He was convicted of killing an Israeli in front of his four-year-old daughter and then crushing the girl's head with a rifle butt.

Former Israeli Cabinet minister Natan Sharanksy, who was also a political prisoner in the Soviet Union, says it is wrong to trade living prisoners for dead soldiers.

"Israel is going to release some of the most awful terrorists from prison. I believe you should not make any deal if our soldiers cannot be brought back alive," he said.

Israel went ahead with the deal even though it described a Hezbollah report on a missing Israeli airman as "unsatisfactory." Navigator Ron Arad was captured alive when his plane went down in Lebanon in 1986, but his trail went cold two years later.

Ruling Kadima Party parliament member, Otniel Schneller, said Israel did not want the two captive soldiers to suffer the same fate as Arad.

"I think that it is a good deal in our point of view. We would like to see them come back to Israel. On the other hand the price is very high, even though we need to pay this price because we are supposed to take care about our soldiers," said Schneller.

The prisoner swap is due to take place Wednesday.


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