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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
Hezbollah offers Israeli hostage deal
Hezbollah attacking Israeli position at Ramta in disputed Shebaa Farms area
Fighting has escalated on the Israel-Lebanon border
Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon have offered to hand over a captured Israeli colonel if Palestinian fighters trapped in the West Bank town of Jenin are allowed to go free.

Hezbollah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, said he would release businessman Elhanan Tennenbaum, a reserve Israeli army colonel held by the guerrillas since October 2000, if Israel spared the lives of about 100 Palestinian guerrillas in Jenin.

There was no immediate reaction from the Israeli Defence Ministry on Thursday.

Hezbollah staged one of its biggest attacks in two years on Wednesday.

The guerrillas fired rockets and mortars at Israeli army positions in the disputed Shebaa Farms region on the border. Israel hit back with air raids on suspected guerrilla positions.

The Hezbollah statement, broadcast on Lebanon's Al Manar television channel, said: "We offer to the Zionist enemy government a proposal to release the Zionist Colonel Elhanan Tennenbaum held by Hezbollah, in exchange for an immediate end to the attack against the (Palestinian) fighters in Jenin Camp, in exchange for lifting the siege imposed on them, and in exchange for reaching an agreement through any possible mediator on a mechanism to ensure their safety".

Elhanan Tennenbaum
Tennenbaum's capture was a major coup for Hezbollah
Mr Tennenbaum is believed to have been lured to Beirut from Europe under false pretences and then captured by Hezbollah.

About a week before his capture, Hezbollah seized three Israeli soldiers in a guerrilla raid in the Shebaa Farms area.

Hezbollah had hoped to trade them for 13 Lebanese prisoners still held by Israel. They include Lebanese guerrilla leaders Sheikh Abdul-Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani, who were kidnapped by Israeli commandos in 1989 and 1994, respectively.

The group also demanded the release of other Arab detainees.

Sheikh Nasrallah has refused to reveal whether the Israelis are alive or dead.

International concern

On Wednesday, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke of his fear of a "second front" opening on the Israel-Lebanon border.

Mr Annan, the EU, Russia and the US - meeting in Madrid - condemned the cross-border attacks on Israel.

Hezbollah has been launching almost daily attacks on the Shebaa region since Israeli forces began their offensive in the West Bank 12 days ago.

On Monday, the Israeli army called up fresh reservists for possible deployment on the northern border.

Along with the Lebanese and Syrian authorities, Hezbollah claims the Shebaa Farms area is part of Lebanon from which Israel should have withdrawn when its forces ended their occupation in May 2000.

But Israel says the farms are on the Syrian side of the border and so are part of the Golan Heights, which it has occupied since 1967.

See also:

09 Apr 02 | Middle East
Hezbollah renews attacks on Israelis
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Troops mobilised for Lebanon border
07 Apr 02 | Middle East
Tensions rise on Lebanon border
05 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel hits back at Hezbollah
04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Sharon warns Hezbollah
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
Hezbollah plays for high stakes
04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Who are Hezbollah?
25 May 00 | Middle East
In focus: Shebaa farms
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