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(photo credit: AP [file])
A special envoy dispatched by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will arrive in the region next week to begin mediating between Hizbullah and Israel on a possible prisoner swap, the leader of the terrorist group said in an interview televised Tuesday.
For a Jerusalem Online video of events click here
In the interview with the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera channel, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah vowed not to approve any prisoner exchange deal unless it included the release of Samir Kuntar. Kuntar, the longest-serving confirmed Lebanese prisoner in jail in Israel, is serving multiple life terms for the killing of three members of the Haran family and that of policeman Eliyahu Shahar in a raid on Nahariya in 1979.
Hizbullah: Organization at crossroads
"So far, the negotiation channel has been settled. The channel that has been agreed on or accepted is the United Nations via Secretary General Kofi Annan who has announced that he will assign a European personality to undertake the mediation and contacts between us and the Israelis," Nasrallah said in the interview with Al-Jazeera.
He said the UN envoy, whom he did not name, had been expected to arrive last week, but should come next week.
"So far, no talks have begun," he said.
Nasrallah ducked a question on whether Hizbullah would demand only the release of Kuntar and two other Lebanese in exchange for the Israelis.
Before this summer's crisis, he had called for other Arab prisoners to be freed, leading to speculation that he may seek the release of additional detainees.
"Out of keenness on the aim - and our aim is humanitarian in the first place - I prefer that everything related to these negotiations remains behind closed doors to not embarrass ourselves or embarrass anyone," he said.
But Nasrallah insisted that a prisoner swap would only be possible if it includes Kuntar's release.
"Absolutely not. You're asking me about a deal without Samir (Kuntar), I tell you 'No'," the Hizbullah leader said emphatically.
Israel says it will not release Kuntar until it receives information about Ron Arad, the IAF navigator who went missing after his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986.
Nasrallah said he told Hizbullah officials assigned to negotiate with the UN envoy to obtain a promise from Israel that it would not to leak any details of the negotiations to the media. He warned that any leaks by the Israelis would lead to the suspension of the talks.
"Sound negotiations that can lead to better results are the ones kept away from the media," he said.
Also during Tuesday's interview, Nasrallah strongly condemned British Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit to Lebanon, saying he was a partner in the killing of Lebanese, according to a televised interview aired Tuesday.
His comments came a day after Blair received a warm welcome by Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. Thousands of Lebanese demonstrated against the visit.
"Tony Blair is a partner in the killing, and then you bring him to my house to my family and you give him a great welcome. Don't those people have feelings?" Nasrallah told Al-Jazeera, in an excerpt of the interview. The full interview was scheduled to be aired later Tuesday.
As Blair and Saniora held a news conference on Monday, they were disrupted by an angry protester who accused the British prime minister of complicity in last month's Israeli bombardment of Lebanon.
Blair said during his visit to Beirut that he understood the anger in Lebanon, where many saw his refusal to break ranks with US President George W. Bush's decision not to call for a quick cease-fire during 34 days of fighting as tacit support for Israel's offensive. More than 850 people were killed in Lebanon, most of them civilians.
"The first mistake of the prime minister and the political bloc that backs him is that they made an immoral and inhuman behavior toward the people who were killed or wounded or destroyed or displaced. This is regrettable," Nasrallah said.