Page last updated at 12:59 GMT, Tuesday, 15 July 2008 13:59 UK

Israel backs Hezbollah swap deal

Eldad Regev (left) and Ehud Goldwasser - file photos
Eldad Regev (left) and Ehud Goldwasser were captured in 2006

The Israeli cabinet has given its final approval for a prisoner exchange with the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, due to take place on Wednesday.

Under a UN-mediated deal, Israel will release five Lebanese prisoners and Hezbollah free two Israeli soldiers seized in a cross-border raid in 2006.

Their capture triggered a 33-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.

The condition of the two soldiers is not known, but it is widely believed that they are dead.

The deal has caused controversy in Israel, with some ministers opposed to the possibility of exchanging live prisoners for dead bodies.

Arad news

In the exchange - the fruit of two years of delicate German mediation - Israel is also expected to hand over the bodies of 200 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters killed while infiltrating northern Israel.

Hezbollah is to return the body parts of Israeli soldiers killed in south Lebanon in 2006.

The Lebanese prisoners due to be freed include Samir Qantar, in jail since 1979 for a deadly guerrilla raid.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has described Qantar as the last bargaining chip for word on the fate of Ron Arad.

An Israeli air force navigator, Ron Arad disappeared after bailing out of his craft during a bombing run on Lebanon in 1986.

Under the prisoner swap arrangement, Hezbollah last weekend handed over documents about the navigator, including two previously unseen photographs.

The photographs were passed on to his family along with letters reportedly written several years ago.

However, Israeli authorities said they provided no new information about Mr Arad's wellbeing.

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