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Tuesday, 18 April, 2000, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Israel to release Lebanese prisoners
UN troops
The UN: buffer force in Lebanon
The Israeli Government has agreed to abide by a Supreme Court ruling ordering the release of 13 Lebanese detainees held without trial as bargaining chips for more than a decade.

They are to be freed by noon on Wednesday.

But the government is taking legal steps to continue holding two senior militant figures, Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid, and and Mustafa Dirani. It says their release would damage Israeli security.

Ron Arad
Arad: Missing in Lebanon since 1986
The cabinet decided to enact new legislation that should allow Israel to continue to detain them.

Sheikh Obeid, a Hezbollah leader, was kidnapped by Israeli commandos from his home in southern Lebanon in 1989. Mustafa Dirani, a Shi'a Muslim leader, was kidnapped in 1994.

Mustafa Dirani is suspected by Israel of involvement in the capture of Ron Arad, an Israeli air force navigator who went missing in Lebanon when his plane was shot down in 1986.

For the first time in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel is forced to leave Arab territories

Lebanese Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss
In a television speech on Monday night Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said he was hoping to hold on to at least seven of the prisoners as bargaining chips.

Israel earlier this year released five Lebanese prisoners in an attempt to gain information about the fate of Ron Arad.

Another three Israeli soldiers are missing, a tank crew who disappeared at Sultan Ya'kub in Lebanon during a battle against Syrian forces in 1982.

A victory for Lebanon

In Lebanon, Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss described as a great victory Israel's announcement to the United Nations on Monday that it would withdraw from the south of the country after 22 years.

Saleim al-Hoss
Hoss: A great victory
"For the first time in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel is forced to leave Arab territories," Mr Hoss said.

But he was also warned that only a peace agreement would guarantee secure borders.

"If Israel, one of the Middle East's biggest military powers, cannot keep its border with Lebanon secure, how can it hold Lebanon responsible?" Mr Hoss said.

"Border security is linked to stability, and this cannot be achieved without a comprehensive peace settlement."

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See also:

18 Apr 00 | Middle East
Strikes follow Israeli attack
17 Apr 00 | Middle East
Israel sets withdrawal timetable
06 Apr 00 | Middle East
Lebanon's terms for Israeli pull-out
05 Mar 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Leaving Lebanon
03 Apr 00 | Middle East
Israel's allies to stay in Lebanon
06 Apr 00 | Middle East
Lebanon on UN agenda
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