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Israel, Hezbollah to swap prisoners

Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, shown in this undated family photo, was abducted by the Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrilla group in October 2000.
Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum was abducted by Hezbollah in October 2000.

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The prisoner exchange is expected within days.
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(CNN) -- After years of difficult, secret negotiations, Israel and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon agreed to a prisoner exchange expected to take place within days, a dramatic breakthrough after the adversaries traded fire this week along the tense border.

Israel, Hezbollah, and Germany, which brokered the exchange, confirmed the swap. The first stage of the swap is expected to happen Thursday, according to Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.

Under the deal, Israel would release 35 prisoners, including two senior Hezbollah officials Mustafa Dirani and Abdel Karim Obeid, the German government said.

The 35 include 23 Lebanese, five Syrians, three Moroccans, three Sudanese and one Libyan. Israel will also release 400 Palestinian prisoners to the West Bank and Gaza. Also, Israel will release German citizen Stephan Smyrek, who worked with the Hezbollah militia.

Israel will provide information on 24 Lebanese MIAs to Lebanon. It would also give to Lebanon the bodies of 59 Lebanese citizens killed in action against Israel and Israel Defense Forces maps of mines along the Israel-Lebanese border.

In exchange, Hezbollah would release Elhanan Tennenbaum, an Israeli businessman and an army reserve colonel, as well as three Israel Defense Forces soldiers who are presumed to have been killed in action.

"With this agreement, Israel and Hezbollah have achieved a breakthrough in seeking to soothe one of the most painful consequences of the Middle East conflict," Germany said in a statement.

Zvi Rish, an attorney for Lebanese prisoners held in Israel, said the swap is to take place Thursday.

Chance to review controversial case

The agreement is based on a November Cabinet agreement in principle on the swap, which was held up because of disagreements over Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar, who carried out an attack in Israel in 1979.

Hezbollah wanted Kuntar to be part of the deal, but Israel refused to release prisoners with "blood on their hands."

However, Kuntar's case now may be reviewed. Israel said Saturday that "with this arrangement a mechanism has been put in place whose aim is to bring substantial information on the fate of captured navigator Ron Arad, and his return home.

"According to that arrangement, the Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar will be released after Israel receives substantial proof about the fate of Ron Arad," Israel said.

Obeid and Dirani, kidnapped by Israel commandos in Lebanon, are being held as bargaining chips in efforts to secure the release of Arad, whose plane went down over Lebanon in 1986.

Trouble mounts along the 'blue line'

The agreement comes during increasing tensions along the Israeli-Lebanese border, known as the blue line.

Israeli warplanes Tuesday pounded two Hezbollah bases in the central and western areas of southern Lebanon after Hezbollah guerrillas killed an Israeli soldier along the Israel-Lebanon border the day before.

The soldier was killed when guerrillas fired an anti-tank missile at a military tractor sent to remove explosives planted by Hezbollah earlier in the month along the volatile border.

The bulldozer crossed the border to maneuver the machine that was used to remove the explosives, Israel said. Hezbollah said the bulldozer infringed Lebanese sovereignty.

From Producer Yoav Appel in Jerusalem and Correspondent Brent Sadler in Beirut.


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