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By Robert Berger
Jerusalem
01 June 2008

Two Middle East arch-enemies appear to be heading for a prisoner exchange.  Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Israel deported a Lebanese-born Israeli citizen convicted of spying for the Islamic guerrilla group Hezbollah to Lebanon in what is widely seen as the first stage of a prisoner swap. 

Nasim Nisr, a Lebanese man convicted in Israel of spying, flashes V sign upon his arrival to a ceremony held by Hezbollah, in the south Lebanon coastal town of Naqoura on Sunday, 01 June 2008
Nasim Nisr, a Lebanese man convicted in Israel of spying, flashes V sign upon his arrival to a ceremony held by Hezbollah, in the south Lebanon coastal town of Naqoura on Sunday, 01 June 2008

At the same time, Hezbollah unexpectedly returned body parts of Israeli soldiers who fell in the Lebanon War two years ago. Hezbollah described the move as a "gesture," but Israel would not comment, underscoring the delicacy of German-mediated negotiations. 

The 39-year-old Hezbollah spy, Nasim Nisr, hugged weeping relatives after he crossed the border into Lebanon.

Nisr thanked Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah for winning his release.  Last week, Nasrallah predicted that a prisoner swap for two captive Israeli soldiers was imminent.  The soldiers were captured in a Hezbollah cross-border raid that sparked the Lebanon War in 2006.

Under the emerging deal, Israel would release about seven Hezbollah prisoners in exchange for the soldiers.  In the past, Israel has traded hundreds of prisoners for its captive soldiers, so the relatively low price demanded by Hezbollah could mean bad news for the families of the two missing servicemen. 

Israeli analyst Jonathan Spyer.

"If indeed we are talking about such a small number of Lebanese prisoners this raises the possibility that the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers may, in fact, not be among the living," Spyer said.

The two soldiers were seriously wounded when they were captured, and so far, Hizbollah has not shown the Red Cross or German mediators any sign of life.

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