Gov't okays last part of Hizbullah prisoner swap

Release of five Palestinian stone-throwers approved as the final stage of exchange with Hizbullah.

Prisoners 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Prisoners 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The cabinet on Sunday approved the release of five Palestinian prisoners as the final stage of the swap deal with Hizbullah for IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, whose bodies were returned last month. The Palestinians had been arrested for stone-throwing and were due to be released in the not too distant future at any rate. Under the terms of the deal negotiated through UN mediator Gerhard Konrad, Israel - in the last part of the deal - was to release an undetermined number of Palestinian prisoners a month after Goldwasser and Regev were returned in exchange for terrorist Samir Kuntar, four Hizbullah fighters and the bodies of dozens of infiltrators and terrorists from Lebanon. The fist stages of the exchange took place on July 16. Under the first part of the deal, Israel received a report on the fate of missing Israeli airman Ron Arad, and gave the UN secretary-general information on four missing Iranian diplomats which Israel maintains were killed in Lebanon in 1982. Under the deal worked out with the UN, the identity and number of Palestinians to be released would be left solely to Israel's discretion. That Israel only approved the release of a few prisoners has widely been interpreted as dissatisfaction with the report on Arad. During a final cabinet meeting on July 15 which approved the deal for Goldwasser and Regev, Mossad head Meir Dagan said that the 80-page report on Arad was a "fraud," and it was decided to send it back to Lebanon. In a related development, the Saudi press on Saturday reported that Hamas would freeze negotiations over the release of captive St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit until the political situation in Israel stabilized. According to these reports, following Olmert's resignation Hamas wanted to wait until the internal situation in Israel became clear, out of a concern that the current political instability would make any implementation of a deal right now impossible to carry out. Officials in the Prime Minister's Office, citing the blackout on all news regarding the Schalit negotiations, refused to comment. One government source, however, said that Hamas was indeed holding up the negotiations, but that this had nothing to do with Olmert, rather with a feeling inside the organization that Schalit was an important bargaining chip they did not want to let go at this time. "From their point of view, their own prisoners can wait," the source said.