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French Version

Israel releases Lebanese after six years in prison

Israel on Sunday released from prison and deported back to Lebanon Nassim Nisr, who was convicted of spying for Hizbullah, while the Shiite group on its own returned to Israel the body parts of Israeli soldiers killed during its 2006 war on Lebanon.

Nisr, born in Lebanon to a Jewish Lebanese mother and a Shiite father, was released after more than six years in Israeli prison on charges of collaborating with Hizbullah.

Arriving at his hometown of Bazouriyeh in South Lebanon, Nisr said that he had communicated with other Lebanese prisoners during his detention period. "We used to communicate through our lawyers ... Our last contact was this past Thursday, and their morale was very high."

Asked why he left for Israel, Nisr said that he "went to Israel for a valid reason."

Nisr, qualifying for Israeli citizenship because of his Jewish ancestry, left Lebanon during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and settled near Tel Aviv with maternal relatives. He held Israeli citizenship at the time of his arrest in 2002.

Valentine Nisr, who converted to Islam from Judaism after marrying Nassim's father, told reporters that her son owed his freedom to Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Valentine also said she stopped contacting her relatives in Israel after her son's arrest in 2002, after learning that her son "was being tortured in Israeli jails."

Nisr's brother Mohammad said Nassim had told him by phone a month ago that "his jailers had placed him in solitary confinement in a bid to persuade him to abandon his plans to return to Lebanon with his two daughters, who are Israeli citizens."

Nisr was handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at the Rosh Hanikra crossing point on the default Israel-Lebanon border, with Hizbullah simultaneously giving a wooden coffin containing what it said were the remains of Israeli soldiers killed in its 2006 war on the country.

Hizbullah official Wafik Safa told the group's Al-Manar television station that the party handed over remains of Israeli soldiers killed in the war. A se-nior Israeli official confirmed that the army had received a coffin but said tests had to be carried out on the contents to confirm whether the remains were those of Israeli soldiers.

"A coffin apparently containing body parts of soldiers killed during the Second Lebanon War has been transferred by Hizbullah to the [Israeli army] as a gesture for the ongoing negotiations on a prisoner exchange," the official said. "The coffin will be examined and the body parts will be examined to determine whether they indeed belong to Israeli soldiers."

Helge Kvam, an ICRC spokesman in Occupied Jerusalem, called Hizbullah's move a "complete surprise," and the Israeli military said the move was not coordinated.

The Hizbullah gesture, along with recent comments by its leader, has signaled that a larger prisoner exchange may be in the works. Nasrallah predicted last month Israel would soon release prisoners it is holding, and German mediators have been trying to work out a swap for months.

Officially, Israel said the exchanges are unrelated to negotiations that reportedly include the release of the longest-serving Lebanese prisoner in Israel in return for two soldiers captured in a raid that sparked the 34-day war in 2006.

However, a senior Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a deal was in the making despite the lack of a timetable for completing it.

Israel's Army Radio reported last week that Israel was prepared to release five Lebanese prisoners and return the bodies of 10 Hizbullah fighters in exchange for two servicemen captured by Hizbullah in 2006.

Israel and Hizbullah have carried out a series of exchanges of prisoners and remains in the past.

Beirut 02-06-2008
The Daily Star

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