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ARAB ISRAELI RELATIONS - Oct 14 - Hizbullah, Israel Dismiss Reports That Captured Soldiers Are In Iranian Hands.

Two Israeli soldiers captured by Hizbullah in July 2006 have been handed to Iran and can be freed in a German-brokered swap. The daily As-Sharq Al-Awsat quoted a source identified as a high-ranking official on the staff of Iran's supreme leader, Ayat Ali Khamenei, as saying the Israeli soldiers had been transferred to Iran by the IRG Corps. "The operation to transfer the two Israeli soldiers to [a country] outside Lebanon and then to Iran was executed by a special unit belonging to Al-Quds Force", the source told the London-based, Saudi-owned paper. A Hizbullah spokesperson refused to confirm or deny the report. He told The Daily Star that the party would not respond to such reports, which he described as "media and intelligence games that aim to provoke a response over the soldiers' whereabouts". He added that only a handful of high-ranking Hizbullah officials knew about the soldiers' condition or location. The soldiers were captured by Hizbullah on July 12 last year, prompting Israel to start a 34-day war against Lebanon which left more than 1,200 dead, the vast majority civilians. The unidentified Iranian official said the operation to smuggle the soldiers out of Lebanon was led by a general he identified as Al-Quds chief Qassem Sulaimani, who he claimed was based in Lebanon with other high-ranking Revolutionary Guards officers during the summer war. He did not specify when the soldiers - Ehud Goldwasser, 31, and Eldad Regev, 26 - were taken from Lebanon, nor did he name the transit country. Lebanon has land borders only with Israel and with Syria, Iran's main regional ally. The unidentified official claimed that the soldiers could be part of an exchange involving Germany, which decided last week to free an Iranian agent jailed for life for the 1992 murder of four Kurdish dissidents. "The content of the deal is being kept under tight secrecy this time, as it is related to the fate of the two Israeli soldiers", he was quoted as saying in the paper. A senior Israeli government official dismissed the report as "nonsense" and said it was an "attempt to disseminate disinformation on this extremely sensitive issue". He said that negotiations to secure the soldiers' release were being held through the mediation of the UN and Germany. An Israeli Army report released last December said the two soldiers were wounded, one seriously and another moderately, in the cross-border attack that led to their capture. Germany dismissed speculation that a decision to free the jailed agent Kazem Darabi as early as December and deport him to Iran was part of deal with Tehran, which has tried for years to secure his release. His name figured in several rounds of talks on potential swaps, including German-brokered talks over the fate of Israeli airman Ron Arad, who has been missing since 1986 when his plane was shot down over South Lebanon.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Date:Oct 20, 2007
Words:477
Previous Article:ARAB EUROPEAN RELATIONS - Oct 18 - Olmert In 'Urgent' Talks With Putin.
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