27/06/2008 With a cabinet vote set for Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has yet to come out in support of a deal with Hezbollah to return the two captured Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. But According to Israeli reports, 15 ministers, including Shas's quartet, indicated on Thursday that they were backing the exchange, and some of the other 10 ministers will likely support it, too.
Former Israeli army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has expressed his firm support for the prisoner swap deal, which would include the release of Lebanese detainee Samir Kintar. "I believe unequivocally that we must carry out the deal, including the release of Samir Kintar," Halutz said in an interview with Nahum Barnea published Friday in Yedioth Ahronoth.
Addressing the deal, Halutz noted that "when Samir Kintar is presented as a bargaining chip in the Ron Arad affair, I believe there is a mix-up between what we want to achieve and what we can receive." "Kintar has been sitting in jail for 30 years. Even if he sits there for five years more, we won't receive any additional benefit from him. I would naturally prefer to see him end his life in a locked cell, but if the result would be having the Regev and Goldwasser hanging in the air, we must release him," Halutz said.
Olmert has not articulated publicly where he stands on the issue, and his office would not reveal his position Thursday night. One source in the Prime Minister's Office said that despite expectations of massive support inside the cabinet on Sunday for the deal, its approval should not be seen as a foregone conclusion.
Cabinet sources said the ministers would be briefed on the prisoner deal on Sunday by Ofer Dekel, the Olmert emissary who negotiated it through German mediator Gerhard Konrad, as well as by Israeli officials and Mossad head Meir Dagan. Dekel and the Israeli forces brass are believed to be in favor of the swap, while Dagan has come out against it.
The same was true for a number of Kadima ministers, including Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim, Immigrant Among the ministers' considerations is the issue of whether Goldwasser and Regev are alive or dead.
PRISONERS SWAP DEAL A DISASTER: MK STEINITZ
However, MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said that if he were a minister, he would oppose the move. "I think this deal is a disaster", he said. In general, he added, "you should never start any kind of negotiation before you get solid information about the fate [of the captives]," Such a move would be a mistake because one should not "bargain for corpses," he concluded. "I call on my colleagues in the cabinet not to vote for it," he said.
Steinitz warned that in the aftermath of such a deal, Hamas movement, for example, would have no incentive to keep alive Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who was captured by the group in June 2006. Since his detention, his family has received two letters and an audio recording proving that he is still alive.
Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin has somewhat softened his position regarding the prisoners who could be released in return for Shalit. Diskin is now prepared to release some prisoners "who have the blood of Israelis on their hands," so long as the risk they pose is lessened.
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