Israel-Hezbollah Prisoner Swap Applauded and Criticized

Today, Israel and Lebanon proceeded with a prisoner swap that saw five Kantar and Hezbollah fighters released in exchange for the return the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers, but not everyone is convinced that this was a fair deal.

Five Lebanese prisoners freed by Israel arrived to a hero’s welcome in Lebanon Wednesday, hours after Hezbollah handed over the bodies of two Israeli soldiers seized by its guerrillas two years ago.

Among those freed in a prisoner swap greeted with triumph in Lebanon but anguish in Israel was Samir Kantar , who was sentenced to five life terms for a 1979 triple murder, including of a child.

The prisoners were transported to Lebanon late afternoon in a convoy of four International Committee of the Red Cross vehicles via the Naqura border crossing, where they were cheered and applauded by crowds of Hezbollah supporters who had been waiting all day for their arrival.

They were then flown by helicopters to Beirut, where they were accorded a red carpet welcome by Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, the entire cabinet and a host of lawmakers and religious leaders.

The five — Kantar and Hezbollah fighters Khaled Zidan, Maher Kurani, Mohammed Sarur and Hussein Suleiman — stood on a platform as Sleiman spoke and then shook hands with the politicians lined up to greet them.

“Your return is a new victory and the future in your presence will be a path in which we will realise the sovereignty of our territory and the liberty of our people,” Sleiman said.

Some critics are calling the exchange a clear victory for Hezbollah within Lebanon:

Hezbollah has been touting the prisoner exchange deal with Israel as confirmation that the Shi’ite militant group ultimately defeated Israel in the Second Lebanon War, but the swap is at least as much of a Hezbollah victory within Lebanon.

“The signatures of Olmert and Peres on the swap means official confirmation of the defeat and failure of the July aggression in the face of the will of the resistance,” said Nabil Kaouk, Hezbollah’s commander in southern Lebanon.

But the swap may be even more significant within Lebanon. Since the end of the war, Hezbollah has been trying hard to prove that even if it was mistaken in its assessment of Israel’s response to its abduction of Israeli soldiers, the war had a positive outcome.

Others, however, see it as a lopsided exchange that encourages more hostage-taking: 

Critics of Israel’s lopsided prisoner exchange with Lebanese guerrillas said Wednesday that such deals only encourage more hostage-taking — a fear underscored by Gaza militants who said the swap proves that kidnapping is the only language Israel understands.

The deal, in which a notorious Lebanese attacker, four other militants and the bodies of 199 Arab fighters were traded for two dead Israeli soldiers, closed a painful chapter from Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon.

But it also raised questions about whether Israel should reconsider its policy of bringing back every soldier from the battlefield at just about any cost.

What do yout think? Who got the better deal — and is this a step toward, or away from, achieving peace?

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