The body of an Israeli civilian was swapped last night for those of two Hizbollah militants and a live Lebanese prisoner in a move that Israel indicated could presage further prisoner exchanges.
Israel's recovery of the civilian, who drowned in the Mediterranean in 2005, 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. The fate of the two soldiers is unknown. The Israeli military said last December that they had been seriously injured during their capture and there has been no public confirmation they are alive.
The live prisoner exchanged last night, said to be suffering from a mental illness, was named as 50-year-old Hassan Naim Aqil, a former Hizbollah guerilla who did not fight in the second Lebanon war. The two bodies were those of Hizbollah fighters who fell in the summer war.
The drowned Israeli was Gabriel Dwait, a 27-year-old immigrant from Ethiopia. The whereabouts of his body was unknown until Hizbollah indicated several months ago that it was in their hands.
Mark Regeva, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry said last night that the exchange, which was brokered by the UN and the Red Cross, was an "example and a model" to bring about "the release of all the Israelis being held in Lebanon.