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Israel, Hezbollah to Trade Soldiers' Bodies, Prisoners

July 21, 1996| From Reuters

BEIRUT — The remains of two Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah guerrillas will be swapped for Arab prisoners and guerrilla remains today, the Lebanese fundamentalist group said Saturday.

In Jerusalem, the Israeli army confirmed that a deal had been reached for the return of the bodies of soldiers Yossi Fink and Rahamim Alsheikh, but it gave no other details. The two men were captured in an ambush by Hezbollah, or Party of God, in southern Lebanon in 1986.

News reports in Beirut said the exchange of the Israelis' remains for those of all Hezbollah and other guerrillas buried in Israel would take place this morning at Beirut airport. Hezbollah sources confirmed the report.

The exchange operation was to be attended by German mediators who secured the deal, which also called for the release of a number of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel's militia allies, the South Lebanon Army, or SLA.

Lebanese sources said they expected at least 40 prisoners to be released in Israel's southern Lebanon occupation zone. Hezbollah says there are about 200 prisoners held there, and about 70 in Israel.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, whose fighters wage guerrilla war on Israeli forces to try to force them from southern Lebanon, said the deal stipulated repatriation of the remains of all Hezbollah and other guerrillas killed in clashes on the Lebanon-Israel border.

Hezbollah had wanted the repatriation of the remains of at least 125 guerrillas.

Earlier this week, witnesses saw Israeli soldiers digging up graves of Lebanese guerrillas at a cemetery in northern Israel.

Fink and Alsheikh were among six Israeli servicemen who went missing in southern Lebanon between 1982 and 1986. Only one of them--airman Ron Arad--is believed to be alive.

Israel says Arad is held by Iran or its followers in Lebanon, but Hezbollah denies knowledge of his whereabouts.

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