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Israel, Hezbollah Step Up Prisoner Exchange Negotiations

Israel and the militant Islamic group Hezbollah in Lebanon are stepping up negotiations on a possible exchange of prisoners. Israeli officials have flown to Europe for talks with German mediators helping to broker a deal.

Israeli officials are in Berlin for talks with German mediators in what is believed to be the final stages of discussions on a proposed exchange of prisoners with the Hezbollah.

The Israeli delegation is lead by Major General Illan Biran, who is in charge of bringing back Israeli prisoners of war and soldiers, who are missing in action.

Israel is seeking the return of captured Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, who is also a reserve officer, and the bodies of three soldiers kidnapped and killed by the Hezbollah three years ago.

German mediators told Israeli officials that Mr. Tannenbaum is, a "broken man." The German officials were allowed to visit him in Lebanon and were reportedly shocked by his poor physical condition.

Israeli media reported the German mediators, who examined Mr. Tannenbaum, found that he had been tortured, severely beaten and had his teeth extracted.

A Tel Aviv Court is expected to rule next week on whether Israeli media will be allowed to report on the circumstances of his capture.

Mr. Tannenbaum was reportedly attempting to forge commercial ties with Lebanese businessmen when he was kidnapped by the Hezbollah.

Israel, which forbids its citizens from doing business with enemy states, had placed a gag order on the case.

Despite the controversy, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he wants to do everything possible to secure the release of Mr. Tannenbaum and the remains of the three Israeli soldiers.

In return, Israel is prepared to give up hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and two leading Lebanese detainees, Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid.

Israel would also hand over the bodies of Hezbollah activists who were killed in battles and buried in Israel.