AFP – October 14, 2007
Two Israeli soldiers captured by Lebanon's Shiite movement Hezbollah in 2006 have been handed to Iran and could be freed in a German-brokered swap, an Arabic newspaper reported on Sunday.
Asharq Al-Awsat quoted a source identified as a high-ranking official in the office of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying they had been transferred by the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
"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 the Al-Quds Legion," the source said, according to London-based Saudi-owned paper.
The two soldiers were captured by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in July last year, triggering Israel's massive offensive against the group in Lebanon during a 34-day war.
The source said the operation was led by a general he identified as Al-Quds chief Qassem Sulaimani, who he claimed was based in Lebanon with other high-ranking Guards officers during the Lebanon war.
He did not specify when the soldiers – Ehud Goldwasser, 31, and Eldad Regev, 26 – were taken from Lebanon, nor name the transit country. Lebanon has land borders only with Israel and with Syria, Iran's main regional ally.
The source 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.
A senior Israeli government official dismissed the report as "nonsense" and said it was an "attempt to dissiminate disinformation on this extremely sensitive issue."
He said that negotiations to secure their release were being held through the mediation of the United Nations and Germany.
An army report released last December said that the two soldiers were wounded, one seriously and another moderately, in the cross-border attack that led to their capture.
Germany on Friday 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 negotiations on potential prisoner swaps, including German-brokered talks over the fate of Israeli air force navigator Ron Arad, who has been missing since October 1986 when his plane was shot down over southern Lebanon.
Last updated 16/10/2007