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(photo credit: Channel 10)
Information handed over to Israel by Hizbullah within the framework of a deal carried out Monday includes documents written by MIA navigator Ron Arad around the time of his disappearance, Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar wrote on Tuesday morning.
According to the report, the documents provoked Arad's family to fly to Berlin to try to prevent the release of an Iranian prisoner, a move initially intended to be part of a deal to receive information on the missing navigator in 2001.
Monday's swap of a Hizbullah prisoner and the bodies of two Hizbullah fighters for the body of a drowned Israeli man who washed up on Lebanon's shores nearly three years ago came within the framework of efforts to secure the release of abducted soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, the Prime Minister's Office said Monday night.
Senior government officials said the exchange was important because it created confidence on both sides that what was agreed upon would be implemented, and because it set a "rational" price for the return of missing Israelis.
In addition to the return of the body of Gavriel Daweet, a 27-year-old veteran Ethiopian immigrant who went missing in January 2005, Hizbullah also provided Israel with "additional information about another matter," whose quality would soon be established, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.
While officials in the office would not divulge the nature of that information, Lebanese media outlets reported that it was connected to the fate of Arad, who was captured in Lebanon in 1986.
In a statement late Monday, Hizbullah said it had transmitted to a UN mediator some "information relating to humanitarian issues that are of common interest" to Israel and the guerrilla group.
"Hizbullah hopes that this goodwill gesture will help bring about progress to end all issues pertaining to the prisoners and the detainees," the group said.
According to Daweet's family, who live in Beersheba, he attended the shiva of one of his brothers who had committed suicide nearly three years ago, and disappeared shortly after he left the house to take a walk. Police said Gabriel probably went to fish in the Mediterranean, drowned, and was swept by currents to the Lebanese coast.
Lebanese fishermen are believed to have found the body and transferred it to Hizbullah.
The Prime Minister's Office said Monday's swap with Hizbullah, the first since January 2004, "constitutes an additional stage in the continuing UN-mediated negotiations for the return of the abducted soldiers [Goldwasser and Regev]. Even though it is still a long way to the conclusion of these negotiations, Israel expects that this evening's significant step will serve to hasten the processes that have been underway for over a year."
In the last swap with Hizbullah in 2004, Israel repatriated civilian Elhanan Tannenbaum and the remains of three soldiers who were killed by Hizbullah in exchange for the release of 400 Palestinian prisoners and some 30 Arab nationals, including senior Hizbullah officials Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid.
That deal was supposed to be the first part of a two-stage deal whereby Hizbullah was to provide Israel with significant information about Arad, and Israel was to release Samir Kuntar, the terrorist who in 1979 killed an Israeli policeman and a father and daughter in Nahariya. Another daughter was killed when her mother accidentally smothered her to silence her crying while trying to hide her from Kuntar's gang.
The second part of the deal never materialized.
Germany announced last week that it would release Kazem Darabi, an Iranian sentenced to life imprisonment in Germany for murdering four Kurdish dissidents in Berlin in 1992, in return for the kidnapped soldiers.
He was believed to be a valuable bargaining chip in gaining information about Arad, leading to some speculation Monday night that his release was somehow part of Monday's swap and Hizbullah's providing Israel with "additional information," information that may be connected to Arad.
Government sources said a UN mediator, Germany's Ernst Uhrlau, facilitated Monday's deal. Israel reportedly received Daweet's passport from Hizbullah a few months ago. The swap was personally approved by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the security cabinet.
The Lebanese prisoner released was identified in the media as 50-year-old Hassan Naim Aqil, whom Israeli officials said suffered from a severe mental disability, adding that he was nearing release in any case. The two Hizbullah men whose bodies were released were identified as Ali Wizwaz and Muhammad Damasqiah, who were killed during the Second Lebanon War.
The swap comes amid numerous rumors concerning the fates of Goldwasser and Regev, who were captured on July 12, 2006 in a cross-border raid that sparked the war. Some Arab media have reported that the two are no longer alive, and others say that they were transferred to Iran. Israel has denied all the reports.
Monday's swap, which was kept under tight media wraps in Israel until it was completed, took place when an IDF vehicle carrying the bodies of the two dead Lebanese crossed into the no man's zone along the border at sundown and returned shortly afterward, crossing paths with Lebanese ambulances headed the other way.
About 100 people gathered near the Lebanese army checkpoint before the exchange took place. Among them was Hussein Wizwaz, in his 60s, who came after hearing from Hizbullah that the body of his son Ali would be returned.
Tovah Lazaroff and AP contributed to this report.â€¢