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Israeli Cabinet to Vote on Controversial Prisoner Exchange - 2003-11-09

A meeting of the Israeli Cabinet is underway to vote on a controversial exchange of prisoners with the militant Islamic group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Israeli Cabinet is meeting to vote on a proposal to bargain with one of the country's most hated enemies in order to save the life of just one man.

The Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, asked his Cabinet to approve an exchange of prisoners with the Hezbollah, a group that has sworn to destroy Israel and is regarded by the State Department as a terrorist organization.

Under the proposal, Israel would agree to set free hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in return for Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was kidnapped by the Hezbollah three years ago.

The deal, which was arranged with the help of German mediators, also includes the bodies of three Israeli soldiers who were kidnapped and killed by the Hezbollah.

Some ministers are opposed to the offer saying it may only encourage the Hezbollah to kidnap more Israelis in order to secure the release of other Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners.

But Mr. Sharon says that there is no choice but to accept, because rejecting the deal would result in the Hezbollah executing Mr. Tannenbaum.

The prime minister also received appeals from the family of a missing Israeli airman, Ron Arad, who was shot down over Lebanon in 1986.

Captain Arad's family says that the cabinet should first demand that the Hezbollah provide information on Captain Arad's whereabouts.

The situation also appeared to become more complicated after the Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nassrallah said on Saturday that the deal must also include the release of a Lebanese man, Sami Kuntar.

He is being held in Israel for his part in a terrorist attack against Israeli civilians in 1979.

Israel insisted Sunday that he is not among the prisoners slated for release.