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Official: Israel OKs Hezbollah prisoner deal

29 Jun 2008 - 14:16


JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The Israeli government on Sunday approved a deal with Hezbollah to exchange prisoners for two kidnapped Israeli soldiers, a government official said. The Cabinet approved the exchange with 22 ministers voting for it and three voting against it, the official said. Before the vote, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his Cabinet the two soldiers are most likely dead. "As far as we know, our two soldiers -- Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev -- are not alive," Olmert said, according to his office's Web site. Hezbollah militants based in Lebanon kidnapped Goldwasser and Regev and killed three other Israeli soldiers in a July 2006 raid into northern Israel. The two soldiers were wounded in the raid, and Hezbollah never gave Israel any indication whether they survived the attack, leaving the families in limbo. Israel's chief military rabbi began a procedure last week to officially determine whether the two soldiers are dead or alive. The Jewish state and Hezbollah fought a 34-day war in 2006 during which Israeli troops invaded Lebanon in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the soldiers. Hezbollah is most interested in the release of convicted killer Samir Kuntar, who is the longest-serving Lebanese prisoner in Israel. Hezbollah hails him as a hero. Kuntar led a group of four men who entered Israel from Lebanon by boat in 1979. They killed a police officer who came across them. They later took a 28-year-old man and his 4-year-old daughter hostage. Kuntar shot the father dead at close range in front of his daughter and dumped his body in the sea. He also smashed the girl's head, killing her. He was sentenced to life. Earlier this month, Israel deported a Lebanese-born man who served six years in jail on charges of spying for Hezbollah. In exchange, Hezbollah handed over a brown coffin containing the remains of Israeli soldiers killed during the 2006 war. The move was seen as a prelude to a possible prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah..


Story Code: 36784

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