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Israel, Hezbollah ready for prisoner swap

  • Story Highlights
  • Israeli Cabinet gives final approval to prisoner swap with Hezbollah
  • Sami Kuntar, others, to be traded for two Israeli soldiers captured in 2006
  • Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the two soldiers, are believed to be dead
  • As part of agreement, Hezbollah released report on missing airman
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel is getting ready to carry out a long-awaited prisoner swap with Hezbollah after the Israeli Cabinet gave final approval for the exchange on Tuesday.

The transfer is expected at the Rosh Hanikra crossing in the western Galilee on Wednesday, and as of Tuesday night, the area will be declared a closed military zone, the Israel Defenses Forces said.

The Cabinet approved the deal in a 22-to-3 vote.

Under the exchange with the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia, two kidnapped Israeli soldiers abducted in 2006 and presumed dead would be traded for five Lebanese prisoners -- convicted murderer Samir Kuntar and four "illegal Lebanese fighters" -- and the remains of 199 Lebanese fighters.

The Hezbollah abduction of those Israeli soldiers, Sgt. First Class Ehud Goldwasser and Staff Sgt. Eldad Regev, sparked the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah two years ago.

"This painful process exemplifies Israel's moral commitment to secure the return of all of their soldiers sent on operational missions. Such a move demonstrates a compelling moral strength which stems from Judaism, Israeli social values and from the spirit of the IDF," the IDF said in a written statement.

Israeli authorities will confirm the identities of Goldwasser and Regev before concluding its part of the deal. Hezbollah plans a "welcome home" ceremony for Kuntar and the four other prisoners later in the day. A funeral procession for the 199 remains will be conducted Thursday.

Part of the swap agreement was a report from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah to Israel on the status of long-missing Israeli flier Ron Arad.

Although Israel's Cabinet approved the outline of the prisoner swap two weeks ago, it waited until it could review report on Arad issued by Hezbollah before granting final approval for the prisoner exchange. Video Watch more in Israel granting approval »

That report on the fate of the missing navigator was released recently. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert described it Monday as "absolutely unsatisfactory" and the Cabinet on Tuesday underscored that position, saying it decided to "absolutely reject the report."

"The government determined that the report does not meet the conditions of the agreement regarding the fate of Ron Arad. The government of Israel will continue its efforts to receive all possible information on the fate of Ron Arad," the Cabinet said.

There were no details available about what the report contained.

Arad was the navigator of an Israeli warplane that crashed in Lebanon in October 1986.

His family's last contact with him came in 1987, and former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised the Arad family in 2004 that Kuntar would not be released unless Hezbollah provides information on Arad.

Kuntar, who had been a member of the Palestine Liberation Front, has spent the last three decades in an Israeli jail for the deaths of four people in a terror attack as he infiltrated Israel.

An Israeli police officer, a father and his 4-year-old daughter died in the attack. A 2-year-old daughter suffocated as her mother tried to stop her from crying as they hid from Kuntar, who is hailed as a hero by Hezbollah.

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In the preliminary agreement on June 29, Israel said information on four missing Iranian diplomats will be delivered by Israel to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and that Palestinian prisoners will be released after the deal is implemented. These issues were not discussed at the Tuesday Cabinet meeting.

"The number and identities of the prisoners will be determined at the sole discretion of the state of Israel," Israel said.

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