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Israel to Swap Lebanese Killer Kuntar for Abducted IDF Troops Print E-mail

By The Associated Press
June 15, 2008

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Samir Kuntar Today
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has concluded that Israel should swap the perpetrator of a particularly grisly terror attack for the two abducted Israel Defense Forces soldiers held in Lebanon for the past two years, a senior government official confirmed on Sunday.
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Samir Kuntar in training as a young man


Samir Kuntar is serving multiple life sentences for killing four Israelis in a 1979 infiltration of an apartment building in northern Israel. Among the dead were a 28-year-old man and his 4-year-old daughter, whose head Kantar repeatedly smashed against a rock before crushing her skull with a rifle butt.

Her mother, who was hiding in a crawl space, accidentally smothered her other daughter while trying to silence the 2-year-old's cries.

The source's confirmation of the deal comes after the pro-Syrian Lebanese newspaper a-Diar on Thursday reported that Kuntar has been told to pack up his belongings and prepare to return to Beirut in the near future, possibly by the end of the month.

Israel had hoped Kantar would be a bargaining chip to wrest information from Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas about the fate of a missing Israeli navigator captured in Lebanon in 1986.

But Olmert and other senior Israeli leaders have concluded Hezbollah has no new information about navigator Ron Arad, the government officials said.

And the prime minister is willing to swap Kantar for two Israeli soldiers Hezbollah kidnapped in a July 2006 cross-border raid that sparked a month-long war with Israel, they added, speaking on condition of anonymity because no deal has been finalized.

IDF Soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev are believed to have been badly wounded during their capture, and Hezbollah has offered no proof they are alive.

Olmert plans to meet with the Arad family on Tuesday to inform them about the impending deal, the officials said.

Arad was forced to parachute out of his fighter jet on a mission over Lebanon in October 1986 after one of his aircraft's bombs apparently malfunctioned. The jet's pilot was rescued by Israeli forces, but Arad was captured by guerrillas from the Shi'ite Amal organization.There have been reports that Arad later was transferred to Hezbollah and then to Iran, but no reliable evidence of his fate has ever surfaced.

Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said last year that he believed Arad was dead.

No timetable for a swap has been disclosed.

Because of the brutal nature of Kantar's attack and his lack of remorse, his release would be highly controversial in Israel.

But the swap would end a difficult chapter here and bringing him the two abducted soldiers would offer the embattled Olmert a rare political victory. The two soldiers have come to symbolize what is widely seen in Israel as a failed war. Olmert saw his own popularity plunge in response, and is now fighting for his political survival after a U.S. businessman accused him of taking envelopes stuffed with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.

In all, Israel is believed to be holding seven Lebanese prisoners, including Kantar. Four others would be swapped for the soldiers in addition to Kantar, the government officials said.

There have been recent signals from Hezbollah and Israel that a prisoner exchange could be in the works. Nasrallah predicted last month that Israel would soon release prisoners it is holding, and two weeks ago, his Islamic group unexpectedly turned over body parts of IDF soldiers killed in the 2006 war.

A senior Israeli military official confirmed at the time that a deal was in the making.

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