First grisly stage of prisoner swap begins

The IDF Chaplains Corps began exhuming bodies from a special graveyard this week as part of the first stage of the prisoner exchange between Israel and Hizbollah.

For its part, Hizbollah presented their preliminary report on missing IAF navigator Ron Arad, shot down over Lebanon in 1986.

The bodies of 200 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters and civilians were exhumed from the cemetery near Kibbutz Amiad in the Upper Galilee in preparation for their transfer to the Red Cross. Due to the large number of bodies included in the deal, 199 reservists were called up especially.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s emissary, Ofer Dekel, signed the agreement with Hizbollah on Sunday in Berlin. A representative of Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had signed the agreement earlier in Lebanon. Mr Dekel returned to Israel with the report on Hizbollah’s attempts to locate the airman, but expectations are low.

“We know basically what will be in the final report,” an intelligence source told the JC. “It is little more than a formality so the government can say that it tried its best for Arad.”

Opinions within the Israeli intelligence community are divided between those who believe that Hizbollah would have made use of any information it had and are therefore telling the truth, and those who say that the Shia movement was forbidden by their Iranian paymasters to divulge the truth.

Israel will send follow-up questions on how Hizbollah reached their conclusions, but it is unlikely that the IDF will change its official position that he is missing in action.

The next stage of the deal, expected to take place towards the end of next week, will be the exchange of prisoners and bodies at the Nakura crossing-point on the Israel-Lebanon border. Israel will transfer the bodies, four captured Hizbollah fighters and murderer Samir Kuntar, in return for the two Israeli soldiers, Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser, captured two years ago. Israeli intelligence chiefs presume that the two were killed in the attack on their patrol and have opposed the deal in which Israel is exchanging live prisoners for bodies.

Kuntar killed four Israelis in 1979. Last week, Smadar Haran, who lost her husband and two daughters in the attack, announced that she did not oppose the deal. This week, her husband’s brothers and the family of policeman Eliahu Shahar who was also murdered said they were against the deal. The Shahar family petitioned the Supreme Court in an attempt to block the deal.

    Last updated: 4:25pm, July 6 2010