NAQURA, Lebanon (AFP) — Israel and Hezbollah were set to carry out a prisoner swap on Monday, with the Jewish state to hand over the bodies of two militants and a prisoner in exchange for the remains of an Israeli man.
"An exchange of bodies and a prisoner swap should take place this afternoon at the Naqura crossing between Israel and Lebanon," a security source who did not wish to be identified told AFP.
The source said the two Hezbollah fighters were killed during the 34-day war in Lebanon last summer between the Shiite militant group and Israel. The prisoner to be released was believed to be a militant seized during the war.
The dead Israeli was an Ethiopian immigrant who drowned in Israel in 2005 and whose body was swept north to the Lebanese coast, where it was recovered by Hezbollah, the source said.
Igor Ramzoni, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in south Lebanon, arrived in a convoy of three cars at the Naqura crossing in the late afternoon and said he was waiting for the all-clear on the prisoner swap.
"We are waiting for the green light before we intervene," he told AFP.
Andrea Koenig, an ICRC spokeswoman in Israel, said "an operation of exchange of mortal remains between Israel and Hezbollah is planned. The ICRC has facilitated the exchange."
A convoy of 10 cars and ambulances that included Hezbollah officials also arrived at the crossing, as did the families of some of the militants.
"My son was killed during the fighting at Marun al-Ras in the first week of the war," said Hussein Fares al-Wizwaz, who was there to recover the remains of his son Hussein.
Sobhiye Rida and her husband Mohammed Abdel Hamid Srour, whose son was taken prisoner by Israel last summer, were also at the crossing.
They said they were not expecting his release but were there to offer their support to other families.
"I am very happy even though it's not my son who is the prisoner being released but his friend," Sobhiye Rida said.
There had been hopes that the prisoner swap would include two Israeli servicemen, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, whose capture in July 2006 triggered last year's war.
An army report released last December said that the two soldiers were wounded, one seriously and another moderately, in the cross-border attack that led to their seizure.
Israel is also seeking the return of the bodies of five soldiers which have never been recovered since their deaths during Israel's 1982 onslaught in Lebanon.
The Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported on Sunday that the two Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah had been handed over to Iran and could be freed in a German-brokered swap.
It quoted a source it identified as a high-ranking official in the office of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying the pair had been transferred to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards.
The source claimed that the soldiers could be part of an exchange involving Germany, which decided last week to free an Iranian agent jailed for life for the 1992 murder of four Kurdish dissidents.
A senior Israeli government official dismissed the Asharq Al-Awsat report as "nonsense" and said it was an "attempt to disseminate disinformation on this extremely sensitive issue."
He said that negotiations to secure their release were being held through the mediation of the United Nations and Germany.
On January 29, 2004, Israel freed nearly 450 prisoners, most of them Palestinians and Arabs, in exchange for an Israeli businessman, Elhanan Tannenbaum, and the bodies of three soldiers.
The exchange was brokered by German intelligence chief Ernst Uhrlau.
As part of the swap, Israel agreed to free Lebanese prisoner Samir Kantar at a later date in return for information on the fate of Arad.
The 41-year-old Kantar was handed down jail sentences totalling 542 years by an Israeli court in 1980 for infiltrating a northern seaside resort and killing a scientist and his four-year-old daughter and an Israeli policeman.
Hezbollah is also seeking the release of four Iranian diplomats believed to have been handed over to Israel by a Lebanese Christian militia after their capture in 1982.
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