Nasr Allah reiterated on Sunday Hizb Allah would ensure the release of all Lebanese prisoners being held in Israel.

 

He was speaking at a press conference in Beirut on the details of the prisoner swap between his group and Israel.

 

Israel agreed on Saturday to release 400 Palestinians, 23 Lebanese and 12 other Arab prisoners in exchange for Israeli Elhanan Tannenbaum and three Israeli soldiers.

 

Hizb Allah says Tannenbaum is a Mossad spy while Israel insists he is a businessman.

 

Nasr Allah said the Lebanese prisoners would be home on Thursday or Friday. While al-Qantar was not included in the first batch of detainees, Nasr Allah stressed the deal hammered out with Israel included Samir.

 

Two-stage deal

 

The swap would take place in two stages, said the Hizb Allah chief. In the first stage 23 Lebanese, 400 Palestinians and 12 Arab detainees would be released this week. A German national being held by Israel for allegedly supporting Hizb Allah would also be released.

 

The bodies of 59 slain Arabs would also be handed over, said Nasr Allah.

 

The Palestinians being released were all captured for their participation in the Intifada against Israel's occupation, added Nasr Allah.

 

Samir al-Qantar has been held
in Israel for 24 years

In the second stage, al-Qantar would be released. Hizb Allah will also try to secure the release of more Palestinians and Syrians.

 

Difficulties surrounded the release of some Syrians because they held dual nationalities-Syrian and Israeli, said Nasr Allah.

 

Israel has refused to negotiate the fate of these detainees, insisting they are Israelis and not Arabs.

 

As for Jordanian detainees, Nasr Allah revealed most of the 25 being held would be released before the al-Adha feast on 1 February. 

 

He vowed to continue negotiations to have all detainees released.

 

Nasr Allah also thanked the German mediators.

 

Longest-held prisoner

Al-Qantar welcomed the deal in a letter to Nasr Allah on Sunday. 

"We congratulate the resistance and our nation for this great achievement which will lead to the rapid release of our comrades," he said from his jail cell in Israel.

"I thank you for the support that you have given my case in the past few weeks.

"For my part, I will remain steadfast with my head held high and will do my duty however long it takes."

Al-Qantar is a former member of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He was jailed for 542 years in 1980 for the death of three Israelis.

Palestinians

Israel holds about 6000 Palestinians, many without trial or charge. Nasr Allah said he received assurances those released would be allowed to return to their homes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Shaikh Abd al-Karim Ubaid (L) and
Mustapha Dirani will be released

The resistance group also received assurances no Palestinians would be forcibly transferred from their homes from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.

Addressing Palestinians, the Hizb Allah chief said hopes were high among many families. He vowed to continue negotiating for the release of more Palestinians.

The names of those to be released would be announced within two or three days, he added.

Hizb Allah spearheaded the campaign to oust Israeli forces from south Lebanon in May 2000 after a 22-year occupation.

Details 

Meanwhile, senior Israeli security officials were meeting on Sunday to iron out the technical details of the exchange, according to media reports. 

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel had taken the right decision.

"The decision over the prisoner exchange deal was not an easy decision. I think we took the right, ethical and responsible decision," army radio quoted him as saying before a cabinet meeting.

Among the Lebanese set for release are Shaikh Abd al- Karim Ubaid and Mustafa Dirani, who were captured by Israel in 1989 and 1994, and held in exchange for news on missing Israeli pilot Ron Arad.

Arad's plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986 during the war.