Officials: 'Goldwasser, Regev swap imminent'

Senior defense officials say agreement finalized, but that it will take several days to implement.

Regev Goldwasser 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Regev Goldwasser 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
A deal for the release of abducted IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev has been finalized, although it will take several days to implement, senior defense officials said Wednesday night. Earlier in the day, Israeli negotiator Ofer Dekel met with the Goldwasser and Regev families and updated them on developments in the negotiations with Hizbullah. Dekel returned to Israel early Wednesday morning after three days of talks in Europe with German mediator Gerhard Konrad. Government sources said Dekel's meeting with the Regev and Goldwasser families was an indication that the deal could be implemented within days. Lebanese media have reported the same. Defense officials said it was not clear where the exchange would take place - in Germany, like the prisoner swap with Hizbullah in January 2004, or at the Rosh Hanikra border crossing with Lebanon. The IDF has begun preparing to move the corpses of the Hizbullah fighters who were buried in Israel and will be returned to Lebanon under the deal. Although the Prime Minister's Office is not saying what governmental forum will be convened to OK the deal, it is widely expected that the matter will come to the cabinet for final approval. No date, however, has been scheduled for a cabinet discussion on the matter. Israel is expected to release several Lebanese prisoners, chief among them terrorist Samir Kuntar, who has been a central bargaining chip in efforts to release IAF navigator Ron Arad, who was taken captive in Lebanon in 1986. In addition to Kuntar and several Hizbullah fighters caught during the Second Lebanon War, Israel will release the bodies of close to a dozen guerrillas. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to brief the Arad family and tell them that Hizbullah cannot supply any more information on Ron's fate. Ehud Goldwasser's mother, Miki, confirmed that a meeting with Dekel had taken place in which they were given a status report, but she refused to elaborate on details. The family, she said, had chosen not to say any more to the press at this time. The Regev family could not be reached for comment. Meanwhile, a member of an NGO established by the UN has said that delivering prisoners to Hizbullah is bad for Israel and bad for Lebanon. Tony Nissi, who heads the International Lebanese Committee for UN Security Council Resolution 1559, advises and lobbies the Lebanese government and the international community for the disarmament of illegal militias in Lebanon. He said negotiations with Hizbullah violated UN Resolution 1701, which obliges Lebanon to return the captured soldiers without negotiations. "I think Israel is trying to benefit from this, and it's heresy," said Nissi. "Israel should negotiate at the UN with the Lebanese government." "Israel doesn't believe the Lebanese government is able to do anything, and so they are not dealing with Lebanon. Instead they are dealing with Hizbullah as the real power in Lebanon," Nissi added. "This is not a healthy relationship between two neighbors." Rice, during a surprise visit to Lebanon on Monday, raised the issue of Mount Dov, or the Shaba Farms, saying the US "believes the time has come to deal with the Shaba Farms issue... in accordance with Resolution 1701." She told reporters Washington intends to press UN chief Ban Ki-moon to "lend his good offices" to resolve the dispute about sovereignty over the district at the meeting place of the borders between Israel, Lebanon and Syria. But due to upcoming American presidential elections, the Lebanese do not expect the US to apply pressure, said Nissi, but instead expect France to step in. Nissi said Israel was leading two simultaneous negotiations with regards to Shaba Farms. On the one hand Israel is pushing the Lebanese government to come to an agreement with Israel, but on the other hand they are negotiating with Hizbullah, he said. "People in Lebanon say if Hizbullah reaches an agreement with Israel, and the fight with Israel and Hizbullah stops, Israel will deliver Shaba Farms to Hizbullah," said Nissi. "It is not healthy to deliver Shaba to a terrorist organization." "Nobody is pushing the UN to start acting," he said. "Everyone is trying to reach agreements alone with another party." Instead, Nissi said Israel should be negotiating with Lebanon through the UN, starting with the release of the captured soldiers as stipulated by 1701, until a peace agreement between the two countries is reached. As it is, Israel was making Hizbullah more powerful, Nissi said. "I can't understand how Israel is on the one hand pushing to get rid of terrorists from their borders, and now will release these soldiers," he said. "They are giving Hizbullah more fighters, that have been sent to Israeli court and jail. They did things in Israel against Israel, and now they are delivering them to Hizbullah to be fighters. Why are they delivering fighters to Hizbullah? We need to stop and think a lot about it." Michal Lando contributed to this report.