JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Israel will not free prisoners to Hezbollah unless the Lebanese guerrilla group proves that two Israeli soldiers it captured before this year’s war are alive, Israel’s prime minister told foreign envoys this week.
At a meeting of European Union ambassadors at the home of the Finnish envoy, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Hezbollah needed to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the troops so proof of their welfare could be gained. “We do not plan on giving Hezbollah what they want in exchange for coffins,” a participant at the meeting quoted Olmert as saying. “We do not plan on making any deal with Hezbollah until I receive proof the soldiers are alive.” The participant at the meeting asked not to be identified.
“I only hope that it is coincidence that Hezbollah is not allowing the Red Cross to see the soldiers,” Olmert said. “I am not even going into the issue of the price right now. it should be made clear: there will not be any serious negotiation and there will not be a deal without a visit to the Israeli soldiers, and that is final.”
Hezbollah captured the two soldiers in a cross-border raid in July, provoking a 34-day war between the group and the Jewish state. Around 1,200 Lebanese and 157 Israelis were killed in the fighting.
Israel has in the past freed hundreds of prisoners in exchange for Israelis held by Hezbollah, dead or alive, under foreign-mediated deals.
Israel released more than 400 Palestinian and other Arab detainees in 2004 in exchange for an Israeli businessman and the bodies of three soldiers the Lebanese guerrilla group had captured more than three years earlier.
Israel is also seeking the release of an Israeli soldier abducted by Palestinian militants in Gaza in June.