U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson on Monday met with Hezbollah officials in Lebanon and called on them to show proof that two captured Israel soldiers are still alive. He said such a move could jump-start negotiations that might lead to the soldiers' release.
Jackson said there were indications the two soldiers captured July 12 were alive, but said their continued detention is "becoming a magnet to attract a second round" of war.
Hezbollah guerrillas seized the two Israelis and killed three others in a cross-border raid that sparked a month of fighting. The war ended Aug. 14 with a shaky cease-fire.
Jackson has been in the Middle East for a week and half as head of a 10-member ecumenical delegation representing Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic and Protestant groups. His mission to gain the soldiers' release has taken him to Israel and Syria and to Lebanon twice.
Jackson declined to name the Hezbollah officials he met with, but said he was hoping for a response later Monday to his call to prove the soldiers are alive, possibly with video evidence.
"My impression is if Hezbollah shows a sign of life or shows the soldiers, that it will trigger a response," Jackson told The Associated Press on the terrace of a hotel overlooking Beirut's skyline. "They ought to show signs of life, show video evidence, because it would jump-start a framework to start talks."
Hezbollah has said the two Israeli soldiers captured on July 12 can be released only through a prisoner exchange with Israel. But Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has not said what he wants in return for releasing the prisoners.
Jackson said one of Hezbollah's key demands was the release of three Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails.
One of those, Samir Kantar, Israel's longest-held Lebanese prisoner, has been imprisoned since 1979 for killing three Israelis. The other two are Nasim Nisr, a Lebanese-born Israeli captured for having contacts with Hezbollah, and Yehia Skaff, who was detained in 1978 while taking part in a Palestinian militant attack that killed 35 Israelis.
Israel Radio reported that information on the soldiers would assist advancing a prisoner swap deal with Israel, adding that the release of a video clip would be his preferred source of information.