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Israeli-Hizbullah swap sparks speculation about further exchanges

But the fate of the two soldiers whose capture sparked the 2006 war is still unknown.

By / October 16, 2007

Israel and the Lebanese movement Hizbullah Monday exchanged the body of an Israeli civilian for a prisoner and the bodies of two Hizbullah guerrillas. The move, the first of its kind since the 34-day war between the two parties last summer, raised speculation that this could be part of a bigger deal that would bring back two Israeli soldiers whose capture sparked that conflict.

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The swap occurred under the aegis of the UN, with negotiations between Israel and Hizbullah conducted through a UN-appointed German mediator, Ernst Uhrla, reports the British Broadcasting Corp. The exchange, it said, occurred in a media blackout.

Lebanese troops kept journalists and civilians away from the border area ahead of the exchange on Monday, but an Israeli military vehicle was seen crossing into the demilitarized zone around sundown and returning shortly afterwards.
Two Red Cross ambulances also drove into the zone near the Israeli border, apparently to receive the Lebanese prisoner and the remains of the two Hezbollah fighters.
Israeli journalists were also unable to report the exchange, as the country's military censor imposed a day-long blackout.
Once it was lifted, Israel reported that Hezbollah had handed over the body of (Gabriel) Dwait, an immigrant from Ethiopia whose body washed up on the Lebanese coast after he drowned.

The Independent (London) reports that Israel's recovery of the civilian "was said by Ehud Olmert's office to have been agreed 'in the framework' of negotiations over the release of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, the two Israeli reservists whose capture in July 2006 triggered the war."

However, the fate of the two soldiers is still unknown. The Daily Telegraph (London) reports that an Arabic newspaper has suggested they could have been transferred to Iran.

Quoting a senior Iranian official, Asharq al-Awsat said that Ehud Goldwasser, 31, and Eldad Regev, 26, could be freed as part of a prisoner swap brokered by Germany.
There was no official confirmation of the report although German and Italian diplomats are known to have tried to broker their release after they were taken in July 2006.
An Israeli military report previously used forensic analysis of the capture site to conclude there was a high likelihood both were dead.

However, Israeli officials have dismissed this report, saying it was an "attempt to disseminate disinformation on this extremely sensitive issue," the Telegraph reports. Both Arabic and Israeli newspapers extensively discussed the possibility that Monday's swap could presage a more significant one.