Nasrallah: We wouldn't have abducted soldiers if we thought it would spark war

By Haaretz Service and Agencies

Haaretz

Elul 4, 2006

Hezbollah would not have abducted two Israel Defense Forces soldiers on July 12 had it known that the action would lead to war in Lebanon, the leader of the militant group, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, said in an interview televised Sunday.

Reservist soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were kidnapped on July 12 in a cross-border raid by Hezbollah guerrillas, sparking a 34-day conflict.

Hezbollah is demanding the release of some of the thousands of Arabs in Israeli prisons in exchange for the kidnapped soldiers.

"We did not think, even one percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me, if I had known on July 11... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not," he said in an interview with Lebanon's New TV station.

Nasrallah also said he did not believe there would be a second round of fighting with Israel, and that Hezbollah would adhere to the cease-fire despite what he called Israeli provocation.

Nasrallah said that Israel was trying to press new demands such as the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping forces at Beirut airport, at Lebanese ports and on Lebanon's border with Syria.

But, he added: "Their displaced people are going back and they have started to rebuild the north. Someone who acts like that doesn't seem to be going to war. We are not heading to a second round."

The Hezbollah leader also said that negotiations on the release of the abducted IDF soldiers have already begun.

"Contacts recently began for negotiations," Hezbollah said. "It seems that Italy is trying to get into the subject. The United Nations is interested and the negotiations would be through [Parliamentary Speaker Nabih] Berri."

The abduction led to a month of war between Israel and Hezbollah, which took over large parts of south Lebanon. More than 1,300 people were killed, mostly Lebanese civilians.

Germany negotiated an exchange of prisoners between Israel and Hezbollah in 2004, which included the remains of three Israeli soldiers captured on the border. Germany has said it was willing to play a similar role in the case of the recent prionsers.

Earlier this month, Haaretz reported that Israel was willing to discuss a possible exchange.

The UN Security Council resolution which led to a truce on August 14 suggests in its preamble that the two sides are to find a solution to their disputes over prisoners.

Jackson: Syria backs efforts to free abducted IDF soldiers
Syria backs efforts to free the abducted IDF soldiers and Arab prisoners held by Israel, U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said after meeting Syrian President Bashar Assad on Sunday.

"President Assad supports the finding of their status and release. He uses influence and appeal to find out what their status is and ultimately their release," Jackson told a news conference held at the foreign ministry in Damascus.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad said: "We look kindly toward Reverend Jackson's mission and encourage it. He is someone who is concerned about the human dimension of crisis."

Jackson is heading a group of Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders on a humanitarian mission to the Middle East aimed at shoring up a cease-fire in Lebanon. He will visit Lebanon and Israel next.

Jackson used his clout as a non-establishment politician to negotiate the release of several U.S. prisoners abroad in the 1980s and 1990s.

He secured the freedom of an American Navy pilot held by Syria in 1983 after meeting with the late Syrian president Hafez Assad, father of the current president, in Damascus.

Jackson said Syria could play a substantial role in solving the present prisoners impasse.

The Egyptian state-run daily Al-Ahram says that Israel and Hezbollah have agreed to terms on a prisoner exchange for the release of the two abducted soldiers, Israel Radio reported Sunday.