In the latest tangible results in German efforts to negotiate a detainee exchange, Israel returned the remains of two activists through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in south Lebanon on Monday.

But Berlin officials were tight lipped on Tuesday after an Israeli daily reported that the mediator between Hizb Allah and Israel for the repatriation of the bodies was the co-ordinator of the German Secret Services, Ernst Uhrlau.

“Humanitarian mediation efforts are kept secret,” said a German government spokesperson. “We do not offer statements on specifics.”

The bodies of dozens of Hizb Allah activists are buried in Israel, in graves for enemy fighters killed in action.

For its part, Hizb Allah refused to elaborate on the repatriation or talks.

A Hizb Allah spokesman refused to answer any questions put forward by Aljazeera net, saying they were highly sensitive issues which only the group’s Secretary General, Sayyid Hassan Nasr Allah, could answer.

Talks under wraps

Israel holds about 19 Lebanese

Nasr Allah confirmed the repatriation took place following negotiations through a German mediator, in a statement on Monday.

Newspapers in Lebanon on Tuesday speculated that a prisoner exchange between Lebanon and Israel was very close.

Israel holds 19 detainees, many without trial or charge, including Shaikh Abd Karim Ubeid and Mustafa Dirani, two top Hizb Allah leaders, kidnapped from Lebanon in 1989 and 1994 respectively.

The two were kidnapped as bargaining chips to be held in exchange for Israeli air navigator Ron Arad, whose plane was shot down over south Lebanon in 1986.

Hizb Allah captured three Israeli soldiers from the occupied Shiba’a Farms in October 2000. Later in the same month, the group also detained reservist colonel Elhanan Tannenbaum, whom Hizb Allah says is a Mossad agent they lured to Beirut.

A leading Lebanese daily al-Nahar wrote in an editorial that the repatriation was a “success for Hizb Allah” despite unconfirmed reports that the group might have compromised on demands for the exchanges.

The pro-Syrian newspaper al-Safir said the visit by a German mediator to Lebanon was a compromise since it meant the group was giving up the exchange of living detainees in return for information.

Ubeid (L), Dirani hightest-ranking
Hizb Allah members being held

Israeli security sources said that in exchange for the bodies, Hizb Allah allowed a German mediator to meet Tannenbaum-the first such visit.

The German embassy declined to comment.

Israeli media said a German mediator said the alleged Mossad agent was in “satisfactory” health.

Tactic shift?

The new contacts may indicate a change in stance for the group’s demand that Israel should release not only all of Lebanon’s detainees, but also all Palestinian prisoners. The Jewish state holds at least 6,000 Palestinians, many without trial or charge. 

However, in July, Nasr Allah warned Israel if there was not progress in prisoner swap talks, Hizb Allah would capture more occupation troops.

For its part, Israel said it hoped to secure a prisoner swap within months.

Hizb Allah spearheaded efforts to oust Israeli occupation forces from south Lebanon in May 2000 following a 22-year occupation.