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Israel signs prisoner swap deal with Hezbollah
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Mickey Goldwasser (R), mother of abducted Israeli soldier Ehud Goldwasser, and Ofer Regev (3rd L), brother of abducted Israeli soldier Eldad Regev, react after being briefed on the Israeli cabinet's approval for a prisoner swap in Jerusalem June 29, 2008.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

In the exchange, Israel is expected to release five Lebanese prisoners and bodies of Hezbollah fighters, while Hezbollah will in return hand over two Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers -- reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev -- captured by Hezbollah in a 2006 cross-border raid which sparked a month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah.

According to an anonymous IDF source, the exchange will probably take place in mid-July if the final arrangements could be made.

Also on Monday, the IDF confirmed that it has begun unearthing and identifying bodies of Hezbollah militants for the exchange at the Amiad cemetery near the Israel-Lebanon border.

On June 29, the Israeli cabinet approved the prisoner swap deal with Hezbollah, which will bring back Regev and Goldwasser who Olmert said were already dead.

A majority of Israeli ministers voted in favor of the deal at the end of a weekly cabinet meeting, after Olmert urged the cabinet to greenlight the proposal to exchange Lebanese prisoners with the two IDF soldiers.

Although favored by many, the swap deal was also shadowed by doubts. Israel's intelligence and security chiefs had urged the ministers to vote against the swap, saying that such a deal would encourage the militants to carry out more kidnappings.

(Xinhua News Agency July 8, 2008)

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