Israeli prisoner swap likely

The prisoner exchange between Israel and the Lebanese group Hezbollah looked set to proceed as scheduled at the Israeli-Lebanese border early this morning after the Israeli Cabinet voted Tuesday to ratify the swap.

Under terms of the prisoner exchange, set to be overseen by the Red Cross at the border crossing near the Israeli town of Rosh Hanikra, Israel will trade one of the most notorious convicts in its prisons, a Lebanese murderer, for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers whose cross-border capture led to Israel's monthlong war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006.

The government had already given the go-ahead for the deal late last month, and the decision Tuesday was a formality. The Cabinet ratified the exchange after receiving a Hezbollah report on the fate of Ron Arad, an airman missing in Lebanon for two decades.

The delivery of the report was one of the conditions set by Israel for the exchange, although after its vote Tuesday the government said in a statement that it rejected “the findings and conclusions of the report.” The government “determined that the report does not meet the conditions of the agreement regarding the fate of Ron Arad,” it said.

The decision to go ahead with the prisoner exchange has set off a national debate in Israel. The deal will involve the exchange of the Lebanese prisoner, Samir Kuntar, along with four other Lebanese, for Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the two Israeli soldiers. There has been speculation that both soldiers are dead, but that has never been confirmed.

The July 12, 2006, raid by Hezbollah into Israel that captured the soldiers was aimed at seizing bargaining chips for the militia's effort to free Kuntar and other Lebanese.

Kuntar was part of a cell that in 1979 raided the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, fatally shooting a civilian, Danny Haran, while his daughter Einat, 4, watched. He then smashed the girl's head, killing her as well. Haran's wife, Smadar, hid with their 2-year-old daughter, accidentally suffocating her in an effort to prevent her from crying out.