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Sharon to Seek Approval for Israel-Hezbollah Prisoner Swap - 2003-11-05

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he'll ask for cabinet approval for a prisoner exchange between Israel and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrilla group. There is no indication whether a deal has been finalized, but the announcement follows months of negotiations.

A statement issued by Mr. Sharon's office said the prime minister would submit the outline of a prisoner exchange deal for cabinet approval on Sunday.

There have been months of intense negotiations, through German mediators.

A prisoner exchange is expected to involve the release of several hundred Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was kidnapped three years ago, and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers, who were captured and killed by Hezbollah.

There has been some controversy over whether information about missing airman Ron Arad, who was shot down over Lebanon in 1986, would be included. Some Israeli media have reported it would be.

There is also some controversy about efforts to obtain the release of Elhanan Tannenbaum since he disappeared under somewhat dubious circumstances.

Mr. Tannenbaum, a colonel in the Israeli Army reserves, had apparently amassed large gambling debts and was lured by an Israeli-Arab friend to go Belgium and then to the United Arab Emirates for potentially business deals to solve his financial problems. Hezbollah guerrillas then kidnapped him, drugged him, put him in a coffin and shipped him to Lebanon. German mediators were allowed to see Mr. Tannenbaum and were reportedly shocked by his poor physical condition. Israeli media have reported that he was tortured, beaten and had his teeth extracted.

Among the Lebanese prisoners expected to be released are leading detainees Mustafa Dirani and Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid.