taken from daily star
Hizbullah and Israel trade prisoner and bodies
Swap at naqoura raises hopes that larger deals could be forthcoming
By Rym Ghazal and Mohammed Zaatari
BEIRUT/NAQOURA: Israel and Hizbullah exchanged the remains of an Israeli civilian
for a captive Lebanese fighter and the bodies of two of his comrades on Monday during a swap conducted under tight security at the Naqoura border crossing point. The bodies of two Hizbullah fighters, Ali Wezwaz, from Mais al-Jabal and Mohammad Dimashqiyeh from Aita al-Jabal, along with Lebanese fighter Hassan Naim Akil, were exchanged on Monday in return for the body of Israeli citizen Gabriel Dwait, an Ethiopian Jewish immigrant who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea on January 20, 2005.
Rumors that an exchange might take place on Monday were confirmed at about 5 p.m. with the arrival of a convoy of sport-utility vehicles at the Lebanese-Israeli border in the Southern town of Naqoura.
A tripartite meeting between the Lebanese Army, the Israeli Army and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon took place in Naqoura just hours before the swap. The meeting was the second in as many days, whereas such meetings ordinarily take place only one a month.
Relatives of the Hizbullah fighters received phone calls from party officials at about 4:30 p.m.
"A Hizbullah official called me at 4:30 p.m. and told me I can come pick up my son," said Hussein Wezwaz, father of one of the fighters.
"I am very proud of my son for dying while fighting the enemy," said Wezwaz.
Ali Wezwaz, 32, married with two children, was killed in a major ground battle with Israeli troops during the summer 2006 war in the border village of Maroun al-Ras.
Alongside troops and journalists, families of other Lebanese prisoners being held in Israel also flocked to Naqoura in the hopes of getting information on the fate of their detained loved ones.
The father of Mohammad Srour, one of those still detained, said he was convinced that his son is going to be released "soon" given this swap.
"This could be the first step to bigger negotiations," Bassam Kantar told The Daily Star. His brother is Samir Kantar, the longest-serving Lebanese prisoner in Israel.
A correspondent for The Daily Star witnessed the arrival of the Hizbullah convoy to the border at 4:45 p.m.
The convoy, which included four ambulances and six black SUVs, crossed the Lebanese Army checkpoint at the northern entrance to Naqoura.
The Hizbullah convoy was met by an International Red Cross convoy, and Hizbullah handed over to the ICRC the body of the Israeli civilian, while the ICRC took custody of the Hizbullah captive and two bodies from Israel at around 6 p.m.
Israel initially refused to hand over the prisoner and one of the bodies until DNA tests were completed on the body of the Israeli civilian.
As The Daily Star went to press, both sides were conducting DNA tests to verify the identities of the corpses.
The negotiations for the swap were mediated by Germany and the United Nations. Local television station LBCI reported that a Lebanese detained in Germany under unknown charges, Abbas Al-Hael, is also part of the exchange.
In January 2004, Israel and Hizbullah conducted a historic prisoner swap mediated by Germany, in which Israel released more than 400 prisoners in exchange for the return of an Israeli colonel and businessman, Elhanan Tannenbaum, and the remains of three Israeli soldiers. Israel also turned over the bodies of 60 Lebanese fighters.
The swap could also be an indication that things are moving forward for the return of the two Israeli servicemen, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, whose capture by Hizbullah last summer preceded the 34-day war.
A UN-appointed mediator is working on an exchange deal to get the soldiers and Lebanese and other prisoners released.
There has been no word on the condition of the two soldiers and whether they are dead or alive.
Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat had reported on Sunday that the two Israeli soldiers had been handed over by Hizbullah to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards and could soon be freed in a German-brokered swap. - With agencies