Sunday, September 03, 2006

Hezbollah wants to swap soldiers for child killer - Sunday Times - Times Online

Hezbollah wants to swap soldiers for child killer - Sunday Times - Times Online

‘Most hated man in Israel’ at centre of deal to bring prisoners back home
IN his Israeli jail cell Samir Qantar, who is serving four life sentences for murder and terrorism, dreams about an exchange of prisoners that might allow him to go home to Lebanon.

“I can imagine how I’ll return to my village,” he said. “First I hug my mum, then my brothers and sisters, all of them. My idea, which I’ll never give up, is to come out of here with my head held up, without giving up any of my principles.”

Qantar, 44, has been in prison since 1979, when he took part in an attack whose horrifying outcome made him one of the most hated men in Israel.

But in Lebanon, Hezbollah has made his release one of its key demands in negotiations to secure the freedom of Ehud Goldwasser, 31, and Eldad Regev, 26, the two Israeli soldiers it captured on July 12, triggering a 34-day war.

Qantar’s role in the attack on the coastal town of Nahariya 27 years ago would make this an especially bitter pill for Israelis to swallow. A policeman was killed and a family taken hostage when Qantar’s group burst into their home.

Danny Haran, 28, was shot at close range in front of his terrified four-year-old daughter Einat, whose head was then smashed with a rifle butt.

The dead man’s wife Smadar hid in a loft with their two-year-old daughter Yael, keeping a hand over her mouth to stop her crying out. But the girl suffocated, leaving Smadar Haran bereft of her husband and both daughters.

Qantar, the longest-held Lebanese prisoner in Israel, was convicted of the murders of Danny and Einat Haran but his family in Lebanon continues to claim that he could not have killed them because he had been injured in a shoot-out with police by the time they died.

Freedom for Qantar and up to three other Lebanese prisoners is now at the top of Hezbollah’s list of demands in return for the release of the Israeli soldiers. “We are working on making this the year we free our brothers in Israeli detention,” Hezbollah’s general secretary, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, told a large crowd in February.

“The whole point of capturing the two Israeli soldiers is to ensure the release of our prisoners in Israeli jails and to bring them to freedom,” a Hezbollah official said last week. “

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