New reports of imminent prisoner swap

Ofer Dekel said to be finalizing deal with Hizbullah; cabinet may meet to discuss possible exchange.

prisoner release 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
prisoner release 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
In a sign that a prisoner swap with Hizbullah could soon be in the offing, Ofer Dekel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's point man on the prisoner issue, is reportedly holding talks in Europe, and Olmert himself is expected to meet the family of missing airman Ron Arad in the coming days. Dekel was reportedly finalizing details of a deal that would entail the return of kidnapped IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, or their bodies, for Lebanese terrorist Samar Kuntar and four Hizbullah fighters captured in the Second Lebanon War. Since Hizbullah has never provided Israel with any sign of life from the two kidnapped reservists, there has been growing skepticism in the defense establishment over whether Goldwasser and Regev are alive. The new activity comes some three weeks after Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech broadcast to thousands of supporters in Beirut that he expected Kuntar and a number of Lebanese prisoners to be released "very soon." Kuntar has been in 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 Eliyahu Shahar. Earlier this month Israel deported to Lebanon Nasim Nasser, a Lebanese-born Israeli Jew who converted to Islam and recently finished a six-year prison sentence for spying for Hizbullah. Olmert's scheduled meeting with the Arad family has been interpreted in the media as a sign that Kuntar would be released. The government's official policy until now has been that Kuntar would not be released until Hizbullah would provide information on the fate of the long-missing navigator. Olmert's meeting with the family has fueled speculation that he will say that Hizbullah is unable to provide any more information on the fate of Arad, and that therefore there was no reason to continue holding Kuntar as a bargaining chip, and he would be released as part of the deal for Regev and Goldwasser. Israel and Hizbullah have been holding indirect negotiations for months through German mediator Gerhard Konrad. Goldwasser's mother, Miki, said that, like the rest of Israel, she had heard the news about a possible deal for the release of her son and Regev on the news. "I read it, exactly like you. We are waiting, like everyone else," she said. Regev's brother Eyal said he had no comment. Attorney Eliad Shraga, who represents Arad's family, blasted the planned release of Kuntar as "immoral." The government under former prime minister Ariel Sharon had promised in 2004 that Kuntar would be freed only in exchange for information on Arad, who was shot down over Lebanon in 1986, he said. It made that pledge after it released one of Arad's captors, Mustafa Dirani, as part of an exchange for businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three soldiers, he added. "It's not the first time Ron Arad has been left behind," Shraga said.