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Monday, 10 June, 2002, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Israel frees Hezbollah prisoner
Hezbollah guerrillas train in Lebanon
Hezbollah has long demanded its members be released
Israel has released Mohammed al-Barzawi, a member of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group, after holding him prisoner for 15 years.

The move - corroborated by security sources and witnesses - was part of a bid to resume talks with Hezbollah on the release of Israeli soldiers, according to the father of one serviceman who has been missing for 18 months.

Staff Sergeant Benny Avraham
Benny Avraham's father hopes the release will bring news of his son
Haim Avraham, whose son Benny is officially presumed dead, told Israeli Radio the release of Mr Barzawi was intended as a gesture of goodwill.

He said he had been told Mr Barzawi had health problems and that it was hoped that Lebanon would reciprocate the release with the return of Israeli soldiers or their bodies.

Benny Avraham was kidnapped with two other soldiers while patrolling the border with Lebanon in October 2000.

The Israeli Army declared all three dead a year later and that was not challenged from within Lebanon.

'Secret talks'

Israel Radio said the release of Mr Barzawi, 39, followed secret contacts between Israel and Hezbollah using German mediation.

Mr Barzawi was taken from prison to Rosh Hanikra on the border with Lebanon.

Hezbollah guerrillas celebrate Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon
Israel and Hezbollah fought in southern Lebanon for 18 years
He was then picked up by officials from the Red Cross.

Mr Barzawi was taken prisoner on 4 December, 1987, during an operation by Hezbollah guerrillas against Israeli forces then occupying southern Lebanon.

As well as the three soldiers captured in October 2000, there are at least five other Israeli military personnel missing in Lebanon.

Israel holds a number of Lebanese prisoners, including militant leaders Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeyed and Mustapha Dirani whose release Hezbollah has long demanded.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a guerrilla war in south Lebanon for nearly two decades until Israel withdrew in May 2000.

But the two sides still dispute the border and exchanges of fire have continued.


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11 Apr 02 | Middle East
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