'Dekel told us deal with Hizbullah in the works'

Eldad Regev's father to Post: PM's point man said there's a Hizbullah agreement on returning soldiers.

Kuntar 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
Kuntar 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
The father of captive soldier Eldad Regev added fuel to speculation Monday that a deal was in the works for the release of his son and Ehud Goldwasser, both of whom have been held by Hizbullah since their kidnapping in July 2006. Tzvi Regev told The Jerusalem Post he had spoken with Ofer Dekel, who for the last two years has worked on behalf of the Prime Minister's office to mediate a deal with Hizbullah for the release of the two soldiers. "He [Dekel] said that there are negotiations and there would be a deal," said Regev as he recalled a conversation that took place several weeks ago. Since then, he said, he has heard only what everyone else has heard from the media - that Dekel is reportedly in Germany working on a deal. Earlier in the day, Regev told Army Radio he had heard from Dekel that a deal had been finalized. But in his conversation with the Post, he did not repeat that statement and said only that he had been left with the impression that there was progress toward a deal. He was not given any additional information about his son. Since their capture, there has been no sign of life from either Regev or Goldwasser, both of whom were wounded at the time. Earlier Monday, the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported that a prisoner swap deal between Israel and Hizbullah was now extremely close since real progress had been made in mediation efforts by a German intelligence official. The paper quoted diplomatic sources in New York as saying that they did not rule out the possibility that a deal would go into effect on Friday or next Sunday. Meanwhile, the London-based newspaper A-Sharq al-Awsat quoted senior Israeli government officials as saying that a prisoner exchange of the two IDF reservists for Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar would be carried out in the next few days. Israeli media said it could take as long as 10 days and could require a security cabinet vote. Hizbullah neither confirmed nor denied the report. Israel Radio quoted Kuntar's brother Bassam as saying that the family was already preparing a welcoming ceremony for Samir. But Goldwasser's mother, Miki, who participated in an IDF training seminar on Monday on how to deal with captives' families, downplayed the reports of a possible deal. She told the Post that she, too, had spoken with Dekel, but that her impression of the conversation had been vastly different from Regev's. "We heard from him that he is going to meet the mediators," said Miki, but there was nothing that struck her as different in this conversation from any in the past. "We are in the dark exactly as we have been for two years," she said. She dismissed the rest of the reports as rumors that began in Lebanon. The Prime Minister's Office and the Defense Ministry remained mostly silent about the affair. Speaking in the Knesset, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel "has done everything and will do everything it can to bring the captives home." According to Channel 1, a deal has been offered that includes - in addition to Kuntar - four Hizbullah prisoners and 10 bodies of Hizbullah fighters from the Second Lebanon War. One of the sticking points was Israel's refusal to include Palestinian prisoners in the deal, the report said. Among the media reports that turned out to be true was a story in Yediot Aharonot that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert intended to meet with the family of missing airman Ron Arad, who was shot down over in Lebanon in 1986. According to the Arad family's attorney Eliad Shraga, Olmert had wanted to meet with the Arad family on Tuesday, but they were unlikely to agree to speak with him. The family had first heard about the meeting by reading about it in the paper, he said. According to media reports, Olmert was set to tell the family that Hizbullah had no information about Arad. Former prime minister Ariel Sharon had promised the Arad family that Kuntar's release would be conditioned on such details being provided. Given that there was no new information on Arad's whereabouts, the family did not see a need to meet with Olmert, Shraga said. Among those speaking with intelligence officials in the last few weeks was Yona Baumel, whose son Zachary went missing during the First Lebanon War along with fellow soldiers Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman, after the 1982 battle at Sultan Yakoub. Baumel and the other two families have long believed that their sons survived the war and were held by Syria. Yona told the Post that in light of the recent talks with Syria, he saw an opportunity to obtain more information about the fate of the three men. JPost.com staff contributed to this report.