Freeing of spy lifts hopes for prisoner swap

ISRAEL freed a convicted Hezbollah spy yesterday and the militant group turned over the remains of Israeli soldiers killed in the 2006 war in Lebanon.

The swap could be the preliminary stage of a prisoner exchange between the bitter enemies.

Israeli authorities released Nasim Nisr, an Israeli of Lebanese descent, after he completed a six-year sentence for espionage, driving him from a prison in central Israel to the northern Rosh Hanikra crossing.

Cameramen surrounded the white van Nisr was sitting in as a blue gate swung open to allow him through the frontier.

In Lebanon, TV stations carried a live broadcast of his arrival. Wearing a white shirt with blue and green stripes, he hugged weeping relatives, including his mother. In brief remarks, he thanked Nasrallah and expressed his wish to see other Lebanese prisoners released.

Hezbollah official Wafik Safa said it handed over a brown box containing the remains of Israeli soldiers killed in the month-long Lebanon war in 2006. Nisr stood beside Safa as he spoke.

An Israeli security official said Hezbollah had agreed to turn over the remains as a “gesture” and the move was not co-ordinated with Israel. The box was handed over to Israel’s army. Military doctors and rabbis were to examine the remains to confirm they belong to slain Israeli soldiers.

Yesterday’s exchange added to speculation that a major swap is in the works. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah predicted last month Israel will release prisoners it is holding “very soon“.

Israel is believed to be holding seven Lebanese in its prisons, while Hezbollah has been holding two Israeli soldiers it captured in a 2006 cross-border raid that sparked that year’s month-long war.

Nisr, 39, was “nervous but happy,” said his lawyer, Smadar Ben-Natan.

“I certainly hope that this heralds a prisoner swap deal in the near future,” said Ben-Natan, who represents two of the Lebanese prisoners still held by Israel.


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