Israel trades 52 inmates for a gun
Jerusalem - Israel traded 52 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners to the Hezbollah militia in exchange for the gun of an Israeli airman who went missing in southern Lebanon in 1986, a newspaper said on Thursday.
Details of the December 2000 deal were revealed by the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper, which said it was a secret part of negotiations to release three soldiers and a businessman captured in separate incidents that year.
The ArmaLite AR-7 rifle, a light firearm designed to be used as a survival weapon, was carried by Ron Arad when his plane went down over southern Lebanon during the Lebanese civil war.
"With our hands shaking, we opened the package, compared the serial number, and when it turned out the numbers corresponded, we called (Arad's wife) Tami," one of the officials involved in the operation told the paper.
Eight years of indirect talks mediated by a German intelligence official failed to secure Arad's release and his whereabouts remains unknown.
After his plane went down, Arad was captured by Amal, another Shi’ite movement headed by Nabih Berri, who is now speaker of the Lebanese parliament.
Prisoners traded for dead soldiers
Two years ago, Hezbollah turned over previously-unseen photographs and excerpts from a diary Arad kept until 1987 as part of another prisoner exchange deal.
It also provided a report saying Arad was dead, which Israel dismissed, vowing to continue the search for him.
Arad has been a cause celebre for decades in Israel, where bringing home lost or captured soldiers, is considered a sacred duty.
Israel has in the past agreed to several deals that have involved trading hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners for captured soldiers and the remains of troops killed in battle.
Yediot Aharonot said the 52 prisoners were included in the 2004 prisoner exchange for the four captured Israelis, which saw Israel release a total of 400 Palestinian prisoners and dozens more from Lebanon and other Arab states.