That’s the final tally for voting over the prisoner exchange deal. Olmert and co. have been preparing Israelis for the strong possibility that Israel is getting bodies rather than living soldiers in return for a rather generous hand over (assuming ‘unspecified numbers’ is fairly large). The Guardian’s story is below. Let’s hope that the soldiers are alive (and pray for it if you are into that kind of thing).
Israel agreed today to swap a Lebanese prisoner for the bodies of two captured soldiers.
The decision, which was backed in the Israeli cabinet, is likely to prompt a prisoner exchange with Hizbullah within days under a deal mediated by Germany.
The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, announced for the first time today that the soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, were dead.
“We know what happened to them,” Olmert told the cabinet, according to comments released by his office. “As far as we know, the soldiers Regev and Goldwasser are not alive.”
The soldiers were captured by Hizbullah in July 2006 in a cross-border raid that sparked a month-long war.
In return for their bodies, the cabinet agreed to release Samir Kantar, a Lebanese guerrilla imprisoned for nearly 30 years for an attack on a northern Israeli town.
Goldwasser’s father, Shlomo, said he was not surprised by the declaration, but wanted proof the soldiers were dead. “They were alive when they were kidnapped and no one has provided us with evidence to the contrary,” he said.
The Israeli cabinet debated the deal for nearly six hours before the vote. There was no immediate reaction from the soldiers’ families or Hezbollah.
In addition to the bodies, Israel will receive a report on a missing Israeli airman whose plane crashed in Lebanon in 1986, and body parts of other Israeli soldiers.
In addition to Kantar, Lebanon will also receive four imprisoned Hizbullah fighters, a dozen bodies, most of them Hizbullah militants, and an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners.
Hizbullah had demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.
Critics have argued that swapping bodies for Kantar would offer militant groups an even greater incentive to capture soldiers and less of a reason to keep captives alive.
Israel is trying to win back a third soldier captured by Palestinian militants in a June 2006 cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip.
Unlike his comrades in Lebanon, the soldier has sent letters and an audio tape to his parents and is believed to be alive, though he has not been seen since his capture. The Red Cross has not been permitted to visit him.
The proposed deal with Hizbullah would require the approval of the militant group’s secretive, decision-making Shura Council. Germany has been trying to mediate a prisoner exchange since Israel’s war with Lebanon ended in August 2006.
Israeli media said the soldiers’ bodies would be sent to Germany and identified by Israel before Kantar is released. The identification process and swap are expected to take 10 to 14 days.