Jerusalem, Israel – The Hezbollah secretary-general’s deputy announced during a Hezbollah event in Beirut that serious negotiations were being held for the release of Israeli hostages Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. He said that the two would only be released in exchange for the release of all Lebanese prisoners imprisoned in Israel, including the murderer of the Haran family from Nahariya, the terrorist Samir Kuntar. Israeli officials confirm that there are indeed significant talks, but say that a breakthrough is still far off.
Sheikh Naim Kassem, who serves as Hassan Nasrallah’s deputy, spoke in a mosque in Lebanon at an event marking the 28th anniversary of the incarceration of Kuntar, who has been serving his sentence in an Israeli prison. He was sentenced to 542 years in prison for the brutal murders of Smadar Haran’s husband and her two small children in Nahariya in 1979.
Kassem emphasized that the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers Goldwasser and Regev would only be released in exchange for the release of all Lebanese prisoners imprisoned in Israel. In the past, Israeli governments have opposed the release of Kuntar as long as no real information is received on the fate of missing navigator Ron Arad.
“The negotiations are serious, and when they bring results we will announce it,” said Kassem. “We have agreed not to publish any details about the negotiations in order to ensure their success.”
Upon the end of the Second Lebanon War, the U.N. called to release the soldiers unconditionally. Hezbollah Secretary-General Nasrallah, however, made it clear that the Israeli soldiers would only be released in a prisoner exchange deal.
Israel refused to negotiate the matter directly with Hezbollah, and ultimately agreed to hold negotiations with U.S. mediation. Last September, a U.N. envoy arrived in the region and began the mediation work. Since the indirect negotiations began, Hezbollah has not released any information on the fate of the soldiers and has not provided any sign of life from them.
Kassem said Sunday that he hoped that the indirect negotiations with Israel would end in a quick and positive manner. “We are committed to the release of our prisoners, in any deal that is signed. We are optimistic that the Israelis will ultimately agree to this. No other solution is possible for the topic of the prisoners except for a mutual exchange, which will include the release of Samir Kuntar,” said Kassem and was roundly applauded. Among those present at the mosque were also Kuntar’s mother and relatives. Kassem’s statements Sunday are opposed to the statements made by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about a month ago during a visit to Lebanon. Ban voiced disappointment at the “lack of progress in release of Israeli soldiers.”
Israeli officials confirmed that significant talks are being held for the release of the soldiers, but asserted that a breakthrough is still far off. The talks are being conducted through an international mediator acting on behalf of Ki-moon. From Israel’s side, the person in charge of the negotiations is Ofer Dekel, who serves as the coordinator of the issue of POWs and MIAs. The talks have focused so far on Hezbollah’s demand that Israel pay a price for a sign of life from the soldiers, but Israel has rejected this condition.
Syria Deploys Iranian Missiles
The Middle East NewsLine confirms that Syria deployed an Iranian-origin cruise missile.
Israeli Military sources said Syria has obtained and deployed the Iranian version of the Chinese-origin C-802 anti-ship missile. They said the missile was used successfully by Hezbollah during the war against Israel in mid-2006.
“Syria has ordered scores, if not hundreds, of such missiles,” a military source said. “The C-802 would keep the Israel Navy away from the Syrian coast in any future war.”
The C-802 employs a small turbojet engine and contains a range of more than 70 miles. The missile could be launched from aircraft, ships, submarines and land-based vehicles.
Iran imported the C-802 from China in the 1990s and began developing an advanced variant in cooperation with North Korea. A C-802 variant named “Spear” was produced and delivered to Hezbollah and Syria.
The firing of the C-802 marked a surprise for Israel’s navy. At least one Israeli small corvette was struck by the missile and heavily damaged in July 2006. An Egyptian merchant ship was also struck by the missile.
The sources said the military has assessed that Syria was procuring a range of Iranian-, Chinese-, North Korean- and Russian-origin missiles for any future war against Israel. They said Syria has been rebuilding its army and navy with stand-off weapons.
David Bedein can be reached at Media@actcom.co.il. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com
©The Bulletin 2007