Israelis in Germany for prisoner swap
28 January 2004
JERUSALEM – An Israeli army delegation flew to Germany Wednesday morning to identify the bodies of three Israeli soldiers being exchanged Thursday for 436 prisoners held in Israeli jails, Israel Army Radio reported.
The delegation, headed by chief army chaplain Brigadier Yisrael Weiss, includes an Israeli police forensic unit, medical personnel and soldiers who will serve as an honour guard during the transfer of the three bodies.
The Israeli Ha’aretz daily reported that on Wednesday Red Cross officials and German delegates will visit the Israeli facility where dozens of prisoners to be freed in the swap are being detained.
The officials will question the prisoners and check their physical condition.
At the same time other officials will visit the Lebanese jail where an Israeli businessman kidnapped by the Hezbollah organization and also to be released Thursday is being held.
The swap gets underway in the morning when a German aircraft carrying the non-Palestinians to be freed leaves Israel and a German aircraft with the businessman and the bodies of the soldiers leaves Beirut.
Identification procedures will begin once the aircraft have landed at a German air force base near Cologne. Israel has insisted it will not release a single prisoner until the bodies of the three soldiers are conclusively identified.
Once the identity of the bodies are confirmed, Israel will begin releasing 400 Palestinians to the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the Lebanese prisoners involved in the deal will be allowed to disembark from the aircraft which brought them to Germany and board one which will fly them to Lebanon.
Non-Lebanese who do not want to fly to Beirut will be transferred to the embassies of their home countries.
According to Ha’aretz, Steven Smyrek, a German citizen who converted to Islam and who was jailed in Israel for planning an attack on behalf of Hezbollah, will fly to Beirut, due to fear he would be detained in Germany by the authorities.
Details of the German-mediated swap were confirmed Saturday night after months of tortuous negotiations between Israel and Hezbollah.
Under its terms, Israel will release 436 prisoners, 400 Palestinians and 36 non-Palestinians, and in return receive the businessman, kidnapped by Hezbollah in October 2000 and the bodies of the three soldiers who were abducted by Hezbollah that same month and are believed to be dead, possibly from wounds sustained during the abduction.
Subject: German news