On Sunday, the Israeli cabinet approved a prisoner swap deal with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah party. The deal would see the release of the two Israeli soldiers (assumed dead) captured by Hezbollah, while Israel would release five Lebanese detainees, including Sameer Al Quntar, four Hezbollah members and the bodies of ten fighters, and will also release Palestinian detainees.
Al Quntar was captured by Israel in 1979. As part of the deal, Hezbollah is to receive information on four missing Iranian diplomats and will hand Israel information on the fate of the missing Israeli navigator, Ron Arad.
The Israeli cabinet approved the deal by 22 votes out of 25 during a cabinet meeting on Sunday.
Israeli sources reported that the deal was supported by 18 members of the cabinet. The 18 are members of Labor party, the Pensioners Party Shas Party and Kadima party.
At the beginning of the cabinet meeting Olmert urged the cabinet to approve the deal but also said that the two soldiers who are in the hands of Hezbollah are known to be dead.
The two are identified as Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. They were captured by Hezbollah fighters on July 12, 2006, near the Israel-Lebanon border.
Olmert told the cabinet that despite all hesitations, he supports the agreement, and added that there is a fundamental difference between Knowledge Israel has now regarding Regev and Goldwasser and the Knowledge regarding the fate of Ron Arad.
He added that Arad went missing more than twenty years ago, but until now Israel has no definite information regarding what happened to him.
Shlomo, the father of Goldwasser said that he was not surprised by the statements of Olmert but wanted a proof that the soldiers are dead.
It is worth mentioning that the head of the Shin Bet, the Israeli Internal Security Agency and the heads of the Mossad security agency urged the cabinet not to approve the deal.
On June 1, Israel freed and deported to Lebanon Nassim Nisr in exchange for the remains of some Israeli soldiers killed in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.
The cabinet approval of the deal clears the way for exchange to be carried out through German mediation.
Israeli sources said that the deal will most likely take place in two weeks, or even in ten days from the vote, adding that the date will be set after the German mediator receives information on the fate of Arad.
The sources added that the deal would be implemented in three stages; first exchange of information and second the actual implementation which includes the prisoner release. The third stage of the deal is release of Palestinian detainees, but this stage will most likely take place one month after the initial exchange and after a cabinet approval.
In Gaza, Hamas movement said that this deal is a victory to the determination of the Lebanese resistance.
Fawzi Barhoum, one of the political leaders of Hamas, said that “resistance and determination are the key”, and added that this proves that “rights are returned by resistance, and not by begging the occupation”.