JERUSALEM – Israel's government says a planned prisoner swap with Hezbollah will take place on Wednesday.
On Monday, Israeli prison authorities moved four Lebanese captives to a new facility, placing them with a convicted Lebanese killer in preparation for a swap with the guerrilla group later this week.
All five men are set to be returned to Lebanon on Wednesday in exchange for two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah in a 2006 cross-border raid that triggered a fierce 34-day war. The Israeli soldiers are believed to be dead, although there has been no confirmation.
In the exchange, to be carried out by the Red Cross at a seafront border crossing, Israel also will turn over the bodies of 199 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters killed in clashes over the years.
The Red Cross was bringing in a fleet of trucks from neighboring Jordan on Monday to haul the corpses, exhumed from a remote graveyard in northern Israel, to the Israeli side of the crossing at Rosh Hanikra.
Early Monday, a prison service van with tinted windows drove through the gates of the Ashmoret prison in central Israel, taking the four Hezbollah men to the nearby Hadarim penitentiary housing Samir Kantar, one of the central figures in the exchange.
Kantar is serving multiple life terms for killing an Israeli policeman, a civilian and his 4-year-old daughter in a 1979 raid considered one of the most notorious in Israeli history.
During that attack, the terrified mother of the girl accidentally smothered her 2-year-old daughter in a desperate effort to keep her from crying out while they hid in a crawl space in their apartment.
From Hadarim, the five prisoners are to be driven early Wednesday morning to an Israeli army base just south of the frontier, where they will be held until the missing soldiers are handed over alive or their remains are positively identified, Israeli military officials said.
If the remains of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev cannot be identified on the spot, they will be flown to Jerusalem for DNA testing before the swap is completed, the officials said.
Forensic examination of the spot where Goldwasser and Regev were captured indicated they were seriously wounded, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last month that Israel believes the men did not survive.
A DNA analysis is expected to take around three hours.
Kantar's Israeli lawyer, Elias Sabbagh, met with his client Sunday and said Kantar was in high spirits ahead of his return home after nearly 30 years in an Israeli jail but did not wish to pass any comment to the media ahead of his release.
"He wants to speak from his own country as a liberated prisoner," Sabbagh said.
The war in Lebanon ended in August 2006 with a U.N. resolution which, in addition to demanding a cessation of hostilities, called for the disarming of Hezbollah and other militias and an international arms embargo against Lebanese guerrillas. It also called for the release of the two Israeli captives, which sparked the war.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that two years after the war U.N. resolution 1701 had shown itself to be a failure and Hezbollah was rearming, with the help of Syria.
"On the second anniversary of the Lebanon war, we should say clearly — resolution 1701 didn't work, doesn't work and will probably not work," Barak told a party caucus meeting Monday. "It is a failure."
Barak is also leader of Israel's Labor party which has been seeking to dislodge Olmert from the leadership of the coalition government, citing a lengthening string of corruption allegations against him.
Olmert said resolution 1701 was a major achievement that brought about the strengthening of the Lebanese army's presence in the south of the country and pushed Hezbollah's main forces back from the Israeli border.