UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has decided to appoint his former special adviser Lakhdar Brahimi to mediate a possible agreement for swapping Lebanese prisoners in return for freeing the reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Brahimi recently publicly expressed his support for talking directly with Hizbullah. Annan announced his intention of taking on the prisoner swap mediation during a visit to Saudi Arabia Monday. "I will appoint a person to work secretly with the two sides... I will not announce his name today or tomorrow," Annan said.
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The Post has learned from UN sources that the person will be Brahimi, one of Annan's most trusted advisers.
Although Israeli officials repeated Tuesday that they did not ask Annan to appoint a mediator, and that Israel expected the unconditional release of the two soldiers as called for by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, they also did not rule out having talks with him.
"We support the fact that the UN can bring about a resolution to the issue," one official said.
Hizbullah officials did not turn down the UN's mediation offer and said they are willing to discuss a prisoner swap.
In an op-ed article published in The New York Times after the end of the war, Brahimi called on the international community to open talks with Hizbullah, arguing that it would be a much more effective policy than ignoring the group. In a separate interview during the war, he claimed that Israel had killed more Lebanese children than Hizbullah fighters and said that Israel "can't say this is collateral damage."
Brahimi was the foreign minister of Algeria in the early 1990s and later served in several senior UN roles, among them special representative to Afghanistan after the war. He also compiled a report in 2000 dealing with the problems of the UN peacekeeping missions.
A UN spokesman in New York, Farhan Haq, would not address the question of the identity of the special envoy, saying he would have no comment on the issue. "The secretary-general made it clear he would not give the name of the envoy in order to enable him to do his work discreetly," Haq said.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.