October 21/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 12,8-12. I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven.When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say."

Free Opinions & Special Reports
The Deal with Hezbollah / Israeli assessment: Kidnapped soldiers ... Ha'aretz. By: Amos Harel. October 20/07
Not every kidnapped person is a prince. Ha'aretz By Zvi Bar'el. October 20/07

There's a better - and cheaper - way that Washington can help Lebanon.The Daily Star. October 20/07
The challenge of seizing the moment in Iraq.
By David Ignatius.October 20/07 

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for October 20/07
European Foreign Ministers in Beirut in New Effort to End Lebanon Crisis-Naharnet
Joint Christian Committee Finally Sees Light-Naharnet
Barak Discusses Lebanon, Iran with Ban-Naharnet
Turkish Foreign Minister Stresses Dialogue Only Way Out-Naharnet
Qabbani Calls on Sfeir to Pick Lebanon President-Naharnet
Hariri Labels Berri "Leader of the Opposition"-Naharnet
Progress in talks on captured Israeli soldiers: Hezbollah.AFP
Swapped POW Wasn't Fighter, Wife Says.The Associated Press

Rival Christian leaders hold closed-door talks in Bkirki-Daily Star
Babacan stresses dialogue as key to solving Lebanese crisis-Daily Star
Qabalan suggests Sfeir choose next president-Daily Star
Israel rejects UN call to negotiate on Shebaa Farms-Daily Star
Syria 'open' to diplomatic ties with Lebanon-Daily Star
Analysts see multiple possible outcomes to political crisis-Daily Star
Olmert to take anti-Iran campaign to UK, France-Daily Star
Bush certifies Saudi Arabia as 'war on terror' ally.
Ahmadinejad denies reports of Russian deal to end nuclear standoff.AFP
Assad warns disintegration of Iraq will spur violence across region.AFP
Pope to meet with religious leaders in Naples.AFP
Israel reprimands commander for using human shields.AFP
OGERO announces plans to cut rates on international phone calls
Lebanon to allow price of oil to float if market rises further.AFP
AUB, UN Habitat host South reconstruction conference-Daily Star
Spike in drug abuse leaves treatment centers in need of more funding-Daily Star

Rival Christian leaders hold closed-door talks in Bkirki
By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 20, 2007
BEIRUT: A four-member committee of majority and opposition leaders met Friday evening in Bkirki for closed-door talks on the issue of the presidency, following up on discussions they had held October 11 and 12. Representing the majority were Dr. Elias Bu Assi from the National Liberal Party and Marwan Saqr from the National Bloc, while Naji Hayek from the Free Patriotic Movement and Youssef Saade of the Marada Party represented the opposition.
Meanwhile, the 17th summit of Catholic Bishops in the Middle East wrapped up its meetings in Ain Traz in the Chouf on Friday, issuing a statement of support for Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir's initiatives aimed at saving Lebanon.
The summit called on all people in the Arab world and Lebanon to have the awareness, courage and self-confidence to make the sacrifices needed to extricate themselves from the current crisis. Highlighting the dangers and challenges facing Arab countries, namely Lebanon and Iraq, the summit also pointed to sectarian tensions which have pushed many people to emigrate. Speaker Nabih Berri has expressed optimism about reaching a consensus over the presidency soon.
"I can say that my optimism has increased. Despite the contrived climate of escalation, I am confident that consensus will be reached and soon," Berri told As-Safir Thursday.
He said consensus is not far-fetched and is only a matter of time, adding that it could happen on October 23 or after that date. But what is certain, he said, is that consensus will be achieved within the constitutional deadline for electing a new president. President Emile Lahoud's term expires on November 24.
"There will be a president for Lebanon within this period no matter who objects," Berri said, adding that the biggest sign that consensus is close at hand "is the frenetic activity of those who are harmed by it which has increased recently." The speaker said his dialogue with parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri has not stopped and will resume soon.
"The delay in the meeting only intends to allow scope for Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir's initiative to develop further in the hopes it achieves its desired results that would relieve tension on the local political scene in general," Berri said. The speaker met Friday in Ain al-Tineh with Justice Minister Charles Rizk. Rizk said afterward that the situation in Lebanon was an extension of a tense regional climate. Meanwhile, Hariri met in Qoreitem with Swiss Presidential Envoy Didier Pfirter in the presence of Swiss Ambassador Francois Barras.
Democratic Gathering leader MP Walid Jumblatt said from Washington that while Syria officially withdrew from Lebanon, its presence is still felt through Hizbullah and its allies. He warned that if a president is elected from outside the March 14 alliance this could hinder the implementation of international resolutions and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to try suspects in the slaying of former Premier Rafik Hariri.
Jumblatt voiced hope that the tribunal would start its work within the next three months and said he refuses to give the opposition a third-plus-one of ministerial appointments in any new Cabinet set up after presidential elections. "The purpose behind their demand for this third is not partnership but to hinder majority rule in government. I am with a government named by the majority which implements [UN Security Council] resolutions 1559 and 1701," he said.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said Friday that the March 14 Forces have not yet chosen their nominee for presidency, but have only submitted the names of MPs Boutros Harb and Nassib Lahoud as consensus candidates, warning that should the other side bypass these candidates they will be faced with tough choices.
Speaking to reporters in Maarab Friday, Geagea refuted media speculation that he would be the majority's "third candidate" for president should the opposition refuse to accept Harb or Lahoud. Geagea urged the resumption of the national dialogue in Parliament as soon as possible and called for giving it time to produce results.
As for Syria's role on the Lebanese scene, Geagea said: "Syria has no business meddling in internal Lebanese affairs, what it can do to help Lebanon is to not interfere and stop sending weapons to internal parties and not push [the Lebanese] toward internal strife."
Former President Amin Gemayel said the committee meetings being held under Bkirki's auspices aim to unite Christian parties in order to reach a consensus over the presidential issue. Speaking to a delegation of displaced Christian villagers Friday, Gemayel stressed the need to elect a president within the constitutional deadline who is capable of tackling the challenges facing the country. He said he hopes the focus will shift away from discussion of alternate scenarios in the event a president is not elected.
Harb met Canadian Ambassador Louis de Lorimier at his home in Hazmieh. Lorimier said his country watches very carefully developments in Lebanon in view of the fact that many Lebanese citizens also hold Canadian citizenship.
After the meeting Harb said he hoped all parties arrive at an agreement before the October 23 session to avoid a political confrontation "of uncertain outcomes" in the country which would create difficulties and create a tense atmosphere. "I am against amending the Constitution for urgent situations or for personal interests," Harb said, adding that "you cannot build a country of institutions that respects its laws and the Constitution by breeching the Constitution." The March 14 presidential candidate added that appointing a weak president will only take the country backward.

European Foreign Ministers in Beirut in New Effort to End Lebanon Crisis
The foreign ministers of France, Italy and Spain will hold a series of meetings with Lebanese leaders on Saturday to discuss the ongoing political crisis that threatens to scuttle Lebanon's presidential election. France's Bernard Kouchner, Massimo D'Alema of Italy and Spain's Miguel Angel Moratinos arrived in Beirut late on Friday in the latest international bid to end a standoff between Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government and the Hizbullah-led opposition.
The crisis is blocking the election by parliament of a president to replace the current pro-Syrian head of state Emile Lahoud, whose mandate expires on November 24.
Ahead of their meetings with Saniora, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, the three ministers visited their contingents serving with the U.N. Interim Force in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL). The three FMs on Saturday also laid wreaths in Beirut at the tomb of MP Antoine Ghanem, who was killed along with five others by a car bomb last month, just days before parliament was to convene for a vote on the presidency.
A parliamentary session set for September 24 to elect a new president for Lebanon was postponed until October 23 because of a lack of consensus among the ruling majority and the opposition, which includes factions backed by Syria and Iran. Ghanem was the sixth lawmaker to be killed since 2005 in attacks blamed by the ruling coalition on Syria, which has denied involvement. Kouchner said on arrival in Beirut that he had come to try and ensure the election of a president who enjoys "backing from all communities."  But analysts and politicians in both camps say Tuesday's second special session to elect a president, who by tradition must be a Maronite Christian, is unlikely to take place because of continuing disagreement between the parties.
The three ministers in late afternoon were to meet at the French ambassador's residence for a round-table discussion with leaders from both camps.
Saniora's government has been paralyzed since opposition forces withdrew six ministers from the cabinet in November 2006 in a bid to gain more representation in government. Fears are running high that the standoff over the presidency could lead to two rival governments, a grim reminder of the end of the 1975-1990 civil war when two competing administrations battled it out.
Many Lebanese also fear that another MP from the ruling coalition could be assassinated. The leading An-Nahar newspaper in an editorial on Saturday termed the one-day visit by the troika of ministers "Mission Impossible." "The more cooks, envoys, and people with ideas and advice the more fear among the Lebanese about the presidential vote and Lebanon's destiny," the daily said. It noted that the visit by the European foreign ministers comes on the heels of similar failed initiatives by other countries, including Turkey, the Arab League, and Kouchner himself, whose trip is his third in three months.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 20 Oct 07, 09:59

Joint Christian Committee Finally Sees Light
Christian representatives from the pro-government March 14 coalition and rivals from the opposition March 8 alliance met behind closed doors in Bkirki in an effort to reach consensus on a presidential candidate. Bishop Samir Mazloum presided over the meeting which comprised of Dr. Elias Bu Assi and Marwan Saqr from March 14, while Naji Hayek and Youssef Saadeh represented the opposition. Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir attended part of the talks, expressing hope that the conferees could come up with new ideas that would be tackled at a broader meeting to be held by the country's feuding Maronite leaders. The committee is due to meet again on Saturday, according to the daily An Nahar. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nabih Berri and MP Saad Hariri resumed talks in Beirut on ways to end the presidential crisis.
A statement released by Hariri's office late Friday said the leader of the al-Mustaqbal Movement briefed Berri on the outcome of his visits to the U.S., France and Saudi Arabia. It said the two leaders also discussed Bkirki's initiative and reviewed the names of the presidential candidates. Beirut, 20 Oct 07, 06:34

Barak Discusses Lebanon, Iran with Ban
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York for talks that centered on Iran's nuclear ambitions, Lebanon and the fate of abducted Israeli soldiers. Barak, who is also deputy prime minister, said after the meeting that he brought up Iran's alleged efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, stressing that "this is an issue that should concern the whole world."
Israel, widely regarded as the sole if undeclared nuclear-armed power in the Middle East, considers the Islamic republic its chief enemy. Tehran vehemently denies it is trying to develop nuclear weapons. The Israeli minister told reporters that he thanked Ban for the contribution of the U.N. mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in south Lebanon and U.N. efforts to try to secure the release of abducted Israeli soldiers. Ban's office said the talks also touched on the Middle East peace process, with both sides agreeing "on the importance of the U.S.-sponsored international meeting scheduled for November." The U.N. chief pledged that the world body would press on with efforts to secure the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers.
Tuesday, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah said that progress had been made in negotiations on two Israeli soldiers captured by the Shiite Muslim group last year, but did not confirm they are still alive. Nasrallah spoke a day after Israel handed over the bodies of two Hezbollah militants and a prisoner in exchange for the remains of a drowned Israeli civilian, whose body was washed up on the Lebanese coast, and information on a missing airman. The prisoner swap was the first between Israel and Hizbullah in nearly four years. The cross-border raid by Hizbullah in July 2006 that resulted in the Israeli soldiers' capture sparked a 34-day war between Israel and the group that left Lebanon devastated. Ban also strongly urged Barak, who earlier this week held talks in Washington with his U.S. counterpart Robert Gates, "to take all possible steps to improve the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people."(AFP) Beirut, 20 Oct 07, 09:28

Hariri Labels Berri "Leader of the Opposition"
Parliamentary Majority leader Saad Hariri labeled Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri "leader of the opposition" and accused the Syrian regime of trying to topple Lebanon's democracy. In an interview with the Arabic-language edition of Newsweek, Hariri said "we should be extremely cautious in our discussions with leader of the opposition Nabih Berri.""To safeguard Lebanon's interest we need to engage in dialogue, the opposition is made up of Lebanese persons and the closer they are to us, the more they distance themselves from the Syrian regime" of President Bashar Asssad, Hariri noted.
The Assassination of MP Antoine Ghanem by a car bomb explosion on Sept. 19 was "the main topic of discussion" Hariri had with the White House, he said.
"He was the sixth MP targeted by assassination. If this persists, the March 14 Movement would lose its majority in parliament," Hariri noted.
"It is not mere coincidence that all the slain MPs belonged to the same (Anti-Syrian) political trend. The Syrians should understand that killing MPs would bear repercussions against them," he added. Hariri stressed that "I'll shoulder my responsibilities as parliamentary majority leader. The top and most important priority is the holding of the presidential election, all other issues would be easier to settle after that."
He charged that "the Syrian regime is toppling Lebanon's Democratic system. They are doing the same thing in Iraq where they threaten stability and democracy by using the Iranians."Hariri stressed on the importance of "dialogue on Hizbullah's weapons," noting that "strengthening our armed forces is an important issue. We need to strengthen our state." Beirut, 19 Oct 07, 11:55

Analysts see multiple possible outcomes to political crisis
None expect new president before Last 10 days of Lahoud's term
By Michael Bluhm
Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 20, 2007
BEIRUT: Similar to negotiations between the ruling majority and the opposition which have have made no progress in negotiations on a consensus successor to outgoing President Emile Lahoud, the country's political analysts can also not find any consensus on the likely outcome of the presidential election. With five weeks remaining in Lahoud's term, five analysts predicted scenarios covering almost the entire range of possible results: from consensus president to a chief executive pushed through by the March 14 ruling coalition to no successor at all. One point was unanimous among all those polled: the country will not have a new head of state until the last 10 days of Lahoud's term, when the Constitution allows Parliament deputies to elect a president by simple majority anywhere they assemble with 65 of the chamber's 128 MPs.
Two analysts gave the best odds to the squabbling factions reaching a deal on a consensus candidate before Lahoud's term ends on November 24. Political currents outside Lebanon will pave the way for the Western-backed March 14 coalition and the Hizbullah-led March 8 opposition to find a consensus president, said Shafik Masri, professor of constitutional law at the American University of Beirut and elsewhere. "There will be a kind of a compromise planned at a regional and at an international level, not only over the name of the president, but also over the parameters of the presidency and the coming Council of Ministers and the program," Masri said. He cited Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit this week to Iran - the first by a Russian leader since 1943 - as evidence of efforts to improve the political and security climate in the Middle East.
Inside Lebanon, the governing coalition and the opposition have both also avoided taking irreconcilable positions, he added.
The March 14 Forces, who have nominated Democratic Renewal Movement chief Nassib Lahoud and March 14 MP Butros Harb, "are saying these are our two presidential candidates. They are not stubbornly fixing on one certain candidate. On the other side, March 8 did not affirmatively nominate [Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel] Aoun. This means there is room for negotiation."
Oussama Safa, general director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, said there was a 65-percent chance Lahoud's successor would be in place by November 24. If he were a betting man, he would put his money on Michel Edde, he added.
"Probably the last 10 days leading up to the 24th they'll agree" on a consensus president, he said. "I would definitely put my money on Robert Ghanem or Michel Edde - Michel Edde, if I were really to choose. The odds are really high, especially for Michel Edde. They're the kind of people who are acceptable to everyone, especially the patriarch."
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir has been one of leaders of the drive to find consensus. The post of the presidency is traditionally reserved for a Maronite, under Lebanon's delicate power-sharing arrangements. Parliament Speaker and March 8 stalwart Nabih Berri has called for an electoral session of Parliament on October 23, but none of the analysts said they expected the meeting to produce a president.
With the two sides at loggerheads for nearly a year, a consensus successor would not likely be able to resolve the issues dividing the March 14 and March 8 groups, Safa said. "It's in everyone's interests to maintain the status quo, not to get to a confrontation which is unwinnable and could be very dangerous," he said. "I would bet that the president is going to be elected, but I would bet that the president is not
going to be able to change things. He's going to put a band-aid on the situation - a president who will probably prolong the crisis. They're not solving the situation, they're just keeping it as it is."Despite the external pressure to find a consensus chief executive, the differences separating the mutually hostile camps might be too great to overcome, said retired General Elias Hanna, who teaches political science at Notre Dame University.
"There is no consensual president - there will never be a consensual president," he told The Daily Star. "My opinion is that March 14 is going to elect a president by simple majority."Hanna said Nassib Lahoud stood an 80-90 percent chance of being elected by the March 14 Forces by simple majority in the 10 days before November 24.
"It is in the benefit of the March 14 [Forces] to have a president," he added. "Whoever comes will not be as bad as Emile Lahoud for March 14. Is he able to govern? I would say no."With the country nearly paralyzed by the breakdown in the political system, political analyst Simon Haddad said the factions could not find the common ground to agree on a successor, and the political inertia would result in Emile Lahoud remaining in office after November 24, along with the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
"There won't be a consensus," Haddad said. "They cannot agree on anything - it's clear. Their external partners are asking them to compromise, but they cannot. I think it will go to a worse situation."
With the deadlock unbroken, Lahoud "will stay at the presidential palace," he added. "Lahoud cannot nominate a second government if this one does not resign. His only choice is to stay."With the situation in Lebanon so muddy, the five weeks remaining in Lahoud's term could hold enough unexpected twists to make any attempt at prognostication premature, said legal expert Ziad Baroud. "I still believe that one month is too much time to assess" possible outcomes, Baroud said. "Too many things can happen in one month. It's too soon. "In a country like Lebanon you cannot predict," he added.

The Deal with Hezbollah / Israeli assessment: Kidnapped soldiers' release in exchange for Samir Kuntar
By Amos Harel -Haaretz
The information Israel has received from Hezbollah about the fate of missing air force navigator Ron Arad offers nothing new. The information details Hezbollah's efforts since January 2004 to gain information on Arad and confirm his whereabouts, including checking with sources in Iran.
Following the exchange that took place on the northern border Monday, in which three bodies and a Lebanese prisoner were traded between Israel and Hezbollah, along with some information on Arad, some of Israel's options have become clear.
Israel now knows that in exchange for the release of the two reservists in the Israel Defense Forces held by Hezbollah - Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev - it will have to release Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese man held for the murder of a family in Nahariya.
This would mean that Israel is relinquishing any chance that Hezbollah will contribute to uncovering the mystery surrounding Arad's disappearance.
In the material that Hezbollah passed on to Israel on Arad, the Shi'ite group sent a message stating that it was unable to provide further information.
At some point in the future, the Israeli government will have to decide whether to continue to insist on linking Kuntar's release with information on Arad's fate, or carry out a deal that includes him and the two IDF soldiers.
During the 2004 deal, which brought about the release of businessman Elhanan Tennenbaum, Israel promised to release Kuntar if Hezbollah offered significant information on Arad's whereabouts. The information Hezbollah provided was limited and did not solve the mystery of Arad's disappearence.
However, some sources in Israel say the group made sincere efforts to gain information on the missing airman.
The main difficulty in closing a deal, apart from the Arad issue, concerns the Hezbollah demand for a major release of prisoners before offering any information on the two soldiers.
Contrary to some media reports, Hezbollah did not pass on to Israel a letter Arad had written during his early years in captivity, sources said.
Despite Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's statements on the group's television station Al-Manar last night, on progress in the negotiations, senior security sources in Israel believe that the talks can last several more months.
No sign of life
Hezbollah continues to refuse Israel's request to offer a sign of life from the two kidnapped soldiers.
Nasrallah said yesterday that there are "intensive and continuous" talks on the matter of Goldwasser and Regev, and that there has been significant progress recently.
The Hezbollah leader's optimistic tone is being interpreted in Israel as an effort to convince the families of the Lebanese prisoners held in Israel that he is working hard to achieve a deal for their release.
It would also rally the Goldwasser and Regev families to pressure the Israeli government to make it willing to pay a higher price for their release.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accused Hezbollah yesterday of "cynical trading which plays on the feelings and emotions of Israeli society" over this issue.
"For years, our enemies have been trying to raise the price that Israel pays in return for bits of information," Olmert added during an address in Ashdod.
Officials in Israel tried to play down expectations yesterday that there are chances that a deal on Goldwasser and Regev could be reached in the near future.

Not every kidnapped person is a prince

By Zvi Bar'el -Haaretz
We must, of course, welcome every captive, every kidnapped person, alive or dead, whom the Israeli government succeeds in bringing back from the enemy. We should also welcome the fact that we are not forced to go to war again to bring back kidnapped soldiers. It turns out it's also possible to conduct negotiations.
Moreover, after Israel went to war against Hezbollah last summer to bring back kidnapped soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, another important lesson should be noted: The excuse that we must not pay whatever price necessary to bring back captives is no longer valid. Because when the government decides it is allowed to endanger the citizens living in the North in the name of some sacred goal, the claim that Israel's security is endangered by releasing prisoners in an exchange for kidnapped soldiers loses its validity.
What is particularly infuriating is the self-righteousness that claims Israel does everything possible to bring back its captives. It does everything subject to the trade rules of honor: Going to war is defending one's honor. Releasing prisoners into the hands of Hamas to achieve a similar goal is surrender, until it turns out that Hassan Nasrallah will receive a similar payment. More serious, it seems that honor has personal price tags.
If we search for the name of Gabriel Dawit on Google or in the newspaper archives during the period before his body was returned, we won't find a thing.
There is not even a mention of his disappearance or drowning. We can imagine the public uproar if the government declared it was ready to pay a total of 435 prisoners for him, as it paid in exchange for the release of Elhanan Tennenbaum and the bodies of the three kidnapped soldiers from Har Dov.
Not because of the high price, but because of the "anonymous" compensation. After all, who is Dawit, for whom Israel is endangering its prestige? It's enough to see what nationalist stomach cramps seized a large part of the public when it became clear the price that had to be paid for Gilad Shalit alive to understand that it is not always the size of the payment that is the measure, but whom we get for it.
What excuses the government scattered about when it tried to explain that it is forbidden to release so many prisoners, certainly not those with blood on their hands, not to mention Hamas members. As though the government would release Fatah members more easily, and as though it makes any difference whom they are releasing.
But let's say that miraculously another page from Ron Arad's diary were to be discovered, or an item of his clothing, or another object, and in exchange Hezbollah or Iran were to demand a few more prisoners. Would anyone dare to object? Would anyone cry out about Israel's deterrence capability? After all it's Arad, not Dawit or Tennenbaum or Shalit.
Because Ron Arad, after 21 years of being missing, has a unique status. To the point where it would be heresy and unpatriotic to say there is no longer any chance of finding him or bringing him back alive or dead, and that he should be included in the list of soldiers whose grave is unknown.
Arad is a national asset as long as he is missing. So much so, says a source formerly involved in negotiations with Hezbollah, that the effort to find Arad or information about him "turned the other kidnapped soldiers into hostages of information about Arad."
He was not being critical. He was only explaining that as long as Israel stuck to a package deal that always included any scrap of information about Arad, it was difficult to take apart the components of the package until the Tennenbaum deal came along.
This time, too, or at least that's the impression one gets from Nasrallah's words that he has no additional information about Arad. Everything has been told.
One can believe him or not. But is the government allowed to continue holding Samir Kuntar if his release will enable the return of Regev and Goldwasser, even if by doing so Israel will give up its last bargaining chip on the issue of Arad, a chip that has not helped it until now? Will the hierarchy of prestige continue to determine the order of priorities in releasing the kidnapped?

Swapped POW Wasn't Fighter, Wife Says

JUBBAIN, Lebanon (AP) A Lebanese man released by Israel in a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah was never a fighter for the militant group, his wife insists, saying he is mentally ill and was captured by mistake by Israeli forces in the confusion of last year's war. Hassan Akil fidgeted and sighed in frustration as his wife described his ordeal, speaking only a few words and with difficulty. "Khalas," Arabic for "That's enough" he said repeatedly, scratching his head as he sat on a plastic chair on the verandah of his house, smoking a cigarette. Israel released Akil to Lebanon on Monday, along with the bodies of two Hezbollah guerrillas in exchange for the corpse of an Israeli man who drowned at sea in early 2005 a step that fueled speculation over a bigger swap in the future.
The Israeli government described Akil as a captive Hezbollah guerrilla, who was released for medical reasons. Israeli media reported he was seized during an Israeli commando raid on a suspected Hezbollah headquarters in his southern Lebanese village of Jubbain and taken to Israel in the belief that he was a high-ranking official in the Shiite Muslim group. The reports said he was then found to be suffering from schizophrenia.
"He's not a fighter. He's just a laborer," Akil's wife, Zeinab Aoun, 41, told The Associated Press at their home in Jubbain Wednesday. Several yellow flags of Hezbollah flew on the roof and the walls of the house. During last year's 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah, the 56-year-old Akil stayed behind after his wife and four children fled for Beirut when fighting became intense in Jubbain, about five miles north of the Israeli border, Aoun said. He was captured two days later, on Aug. 2, 2006.
Aoun said her husband has had "mental problems" since birth, though she couldn't give a medical name for his condition. She said his problems were worse now than before he was seized. Akil said he was given medication while in Israeli custody. "They gave me everything," he blurted out.
Asked if he was tortured, he said quietly, "Only psychological torture." He did not reply when he was asked how.
On his first night home, Akil didn't sleep, pacing around the house, his wife said. "Every time I ask him what's wrong, he says, 'Khalas, I don't feel like talking, leave me alone,'" she said.
"He's different since he returned. He used to talk to his children, now he doesn't. I now have to feed him, put food in his mouth," because he has little appetite, she said as Akil sighed and stared at his shaking hands, squeezing his fingers.
A day after Monday's prisoner swap, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said there was "positive progress" in negotiations for an exchange involving two Israeli soldiers whose capture by Hezbollah sparked the war. But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the same day the return of the two soldiers was still far off.
Hezbollah seized the soldiers in a July 12, 2006, cross-border raid, triggering a massive Israeli bombardment. The fighting that ensued killed as many as 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. But Israel failed to win the freedom of the soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
Hezbollah has given no signs of life from the pair, who were severely wounded during the abduction. It has not allowed the Red Cross to see them.
Hezbollah says it would only exchange the two soldiers for all Lebanese and Arabs detained in Israel. Negotiations are being mediated by the United Nations.
Monday's exchange was the fourth between Hezbollah and Israel in recent years. Although small in scale, its success was widely seen as improving the chances of further exchanges. Hezbollah even had some rare positive words for Israel, praising the exchange "as an expression of humanitarian goodwill by both sides."
It is believed that there are currently seven Lebanese in Israeli prisons. Nasrallah said Tuesday that five Lebanese were captured during last year's war, including Akil. The two others were captured decades ago.
Hosted by Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Progress in talks on captured Israeli soldiers: Hezbollah

BEIRUT (AFP) Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Tuesday that progress had been made in negotiations on two Israeli soldiers the Shiite Muslim group captured last year, but did not confirm if they are still alive.
"For the first time, I can say that we have advanced positively in the negotiations concerning the two Israeli soldiers and (Lebanese) prisoners," Nasrallah said in a television address. He was speaking a day after the first prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah in nearly four years.
"The doors that had been closed in this case have started to open," he said. "There is hope and optimism, which did not exist before, on moving forward in the negotiations."
He added without giving details that the talks between the Shiite militia and the "Zionist enemy" were being handled by an international mediator appointed by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the swap and urged both parties to move ahead with the release of the two Israeli soldiers and "to find the necessary solutions for the remaining Lebanese citizens that are still in Israeli detention."
The cross-border raid by Hezbollah guerrillas in July 2006 that resulted in the soldiers' capture sparked a 34-day war between Israel and the group that left Lebanon devastated. On Monday, Israel handed over the bodies of two Hezbollah militants and a prisoner in exchange for the remains of a drowned Israeli civilian, whose body was washed up on the Lebanese coast, and information on a missing airman. An Israeli official said the information related to Ron Arad, who has been missing for more than 20 years after ejecting from a fighter jet over Lebanon. Nasrallah said Hezbollah had delivered "the information concerning a specific question," without elaborating. "Israel can say whatever it wants, but we are committed to keeping the secret."
He added that in addition to Arad the Israelis had also raised the question of the bodies of three soldiers who had disappeared in 1982 in Sultan Yaacub in the Bekaa valley as well as Arad. Hezbollah brought up the question of "all prisoners, Lebanese or otherwise, and four Iranian diplomats kidnapped in Lebanon in 1982, whom we believe were taken to Israel," the Shiite leader said.
Monday's swap took place at the Naqura border crossing between the two countries in a deal brokered by German and UN mediators.
Meanwhile German officials could meet for the first time with Arad's relatives after the announcement of the imminent release of an Iranian official jailed in Germany for killing Kurdish dissidents in 1992.
But the German officials indicated there would be no deal involving the planned release of convicted Iranian Kazem Darabi, whose name figured in several rounds of talks on potential prisoner swaps including German-brokered negotiations between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert welcomed Monday's prisoner swap as a "bearable" price to pay towards the return of missing soldiers.
"For years, our enemies have been trying to raise the price for the least information, the return of kidnapped soldiers and civilians, or their bodies," he said in the southern city of Ashdod. "Sometimes we have no choice but to pay a heavy price. I believe, however, that what happened yesterday was carried out in a balanced way and at a bearable price."The Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported on Sunday that the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah in July 2006 had been handed over to Iran and could be freed in a German-brokered swap.
A senior Israeli government official dismissed the report as "nonsense," however, calling it an "attempt to disseminate disinformation on this extremely sensitive issue."
He said negotiations to secure their release were being mediated by the United Nations and Germany. On January 29, 2004, Israel freed nearly 450 prisoners, most of them Palestinians and Arabs, in exchange for Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three soldiers.
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