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Wednesday, 5 April, 2000, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Israel releases Lebanese prisoner
Israeli soldiers look into southern Lebanon
Israel has pledged to withdraw from Lebanon by July
Israel has released a Lebanese detainee, Ghassan al-Dirani, who has been held without charge for a decade.

Some reports say he was freed on health grounds.

A lawyer for Mr Dirani said his client had been psychologically scarred by his detention and was suffering from schizophrenia.

He was being held by Israel as a "bargaining chip" for Israeli soldiers missing in action in Lebanon.

In particular, Israel wants information concerning missing airman Ron Arad, whose plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986.

Abuse allegations

Israel maintains that Mr Arad was handed over to Lebanese Shia guerrillas, who have denied knowledge of his whereabouts.

Israel's Deputy Defence Minister, Ephraim Sneh, has condemend the decision to let Mr Dirani go.

"Another bargaining chip, out of the few we have in the struggle to bring Ron Arad home has been lost," Mr Sneh told Army Radio.

Ghassan Dirani is a relative of a militant Lebanese Shia leader, Mustapha Dirani, who is still held by Israel after being abducted in 1994.

Mustapha Dirani filed a law suit against Israel last month, alleging that he had been systematically beaten and raped while in detention.

Israel is reported to be holding about 15 Lebanese soldiers in "administrative detention" as bargaining chips for missing soldiers.

It is not clear whether Ghassan Dirani's release was linked to Israel's planned pull out of south Lebanon by July.

Iranian and Syrian-backed mainly Shia groups have been waging a low-level war to oust Israeli troops from Lebanon.

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See also:

01 Apr 00 | Middle East
Syria dismisses Lebanon troop idea
05 Mar 00 | Middle East
Israel agrees Lebanon pull-out
05 Mar 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Leaving Lebanon
11 Feb 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Dilemma facing Israeli army
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