Israel-Hezbollah Prisoner Swap Expected This WeekBy Robert Berger
13 July 2008

Israel and the Islamic guerrilla group Hezbollah in Lebanon are expected to carry out a prisoner exchange this week. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

A young boy rides his bicycle past pictures of Lebanese prisoner Samir Kantar in the southern city of Sidon, Lebanon (File)

Israel is proceeding with the prisoner swap, despite an inconclusive Hezbollah report on a missing Israeli airman. The 80-page document did not shed any new light on Ron Arad, an Israeli navigator whose plane went down in Lebanon in 1986.

Arad was captured alive by Shiite militants, but disappeared two decades ago. Hezbollah says it believes that Arad is dead, but it offered no proof, such as a body or place of burial.

Therefore, Israeli analyst Barry Rubin believes there is still hope that Arad is alive.

"There has always been hope and we know that the captors keep people for a very long period to milk everything they can from these tragedies," said Rubin. "But unless there is very clear reason to believe otherwise, I think that hope does continue."

Nevertheless, Israel does not want the Arad issue to scuttle a prisoner swap that is expected to take place Wednesday. Under the deal, The soldiers are believed to be dead.

The deal has aroused controversy here because Israel plans to release Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar, convicted of killing an Israeli in front of his four-year old daughter in 1979 and then crushing her head with his rifle butt.

Rubin says setting him free is an outrage.

"Sami Kuntar is about the most vicious, horrible criminal that terrorism has ever produced, and people should think very carefully about releasing such a person," said Rubin.

The Israeli government says it has an obligation to bring its servicemen home. But critics say Israel should not be trading living terrorists for dead soldiers.

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