Hizbullah claims body parts part of deal

Group to 'Post': Transfer part of "framework of an exchange"; Israeli officials: Swap was a surprise.

Nisr waves 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Nisr waves 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Sunday's deportation of Hizbullah spy Nasim Nisr and the return of body parts said to belong to IDF soldiers killed in the Second Lebanon War are part of a "framework of an exchange of captives between the resistance in Lebanon and the Zionist entity," a Hizbullah official told The Jerusalem Post Sunday. Asked if Nisr's release - part of a deal he said was reached via a German mediator - was part of a broader prisoner exchange, the Hizbullah official said: "God willing, it will be part of a [larger] exchange. We don't have complete information now... We are waiting for the upcoming days." Nisr, who was convicted in 2002 of espionage, crossed into Lebanon in the morning and Arab television stations showed the gray-haired man being welcomed with great fanfare by relatives and Hizbullah supporters waving yellow flags. A few moments later, a Hizbullah car arrived at the crossing and unloaded a brown box which, the group claimed, contained body parts of IDF soldiers. Israeli defense officials said the transfer of the body parts came as a surprise and that Nisr was allowed to enter Lebanon after he completed his six-year prison term for spying on behalf of Hizbullah. Helge Kvam, a Red Cross spokesman in Jerusalem, also called Hizbullah's move a "complete surprise," and the IDF said the move was not coordinated. After an initial examination, the box was taken to the L. Greenberg Institute for Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir, where the remains will be identified by DNA testing. The IDF says that nine soldiers killed in the Second Lebanon War were buried with missing parts. The defense officials said Nisr would have been released in any case, without connection to any potential deal being brokered by Germany with Hizbullah for the release of kidnapped IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. As reported extensively last week, Israel has offered to release four Hizbullah fighters captured during the war, the bodies of 10 fighters and Samir Kuntar, who has been serving four life sentences in Israeli prison since 1979, when he led a terrorist attack in Nahariya that led to the death of Danny Haran, his two young daughters, and policeman Eliahu Shahar. Officials in Jerusalem said Israel was waiting for Hizbullah's response to the offer and that it would take time before Regev and Goldwasser were returned. "The promise that the resistance made and took upon itself is to return its captives and to liberate them from the jails of the Israeli occupation in order to return them free to their homeland," the Hizbullah official said, adding that the decision to exchange the body parts for Nisr was made in coordination with Gerhard Konrad, the German official who is mediating between Hizbullah and Israel. The army's OC Manpower Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern appointed a team of officers to coordinate IDF activities with regards to the body parts and to maintain contact with the bereaved families. By Sunday afternoon, several families whose sons were buried incomplete received phone calls from IDF representatives updating them on the recent developments. An independent Lebanese parliamentarian said he was hopeful that the exchange would pave the way for Lebanon and Israel to solve other outstanding issues. "Like many Lebanese, we are welcoming his [Nisr's] coming back, and look forward to the release and coming back of all the others so this chapter of the conflict can be turned, and so we can move forward and resolve all the other pending issues, like the continued occupation of the Shaba Farms [Mount Dov], and the overall peace process," he told the Post. In Beirut, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was pleased with Sunday's developments. "Concerning the prisoner exchange, I would like to say that I am happy with you that preliminary steps have been taken in this direction. I also hope with you that these preliminary steps have created a positive dynamism in these secret talks, which take place in the framework of mutual confidence," he said after a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. Steinmeier was expected to arrive in Israel on Monday, and will be meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Nisr, 39, was born in Lebanon to a Jewish mother and a Shi'ite father. Because of his Jewish ancestry, he qualified for Israeli citizenship and moved to Israel. Back in Lebanon, Nasser's Jewish mother has converted to Islam, and Nasser has disavowed any links to a Jewish identity, despite marrying an Israeli-Russian woman and having two children with her. He has since divorced the woman. Nasser emigrated to Israel more than 15 years ago and resided in Holon, where he was arrested in 2002 by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Service) on espionage charges. According to an Israel Police spokeswoman, he was deported to Lebanon because he was "staying in Israel illegally." "He completed his prison service and was scheduled for release without connection [to a deal]," the spokeswoman said. "While he emigrated to Israel under the Law of Return, the circumstances of his arrest and conviction meant he did not receive permanent status. As soon as he completed his prison term, he was considered to be illegally residing in the country." "This was also a deal - we got something in return," the spokeswoman said. Yaakov Lappin, Herb Keinon, AP and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.