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2ND Nasrallah says prisoners file is ready, regrets war

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Sunday August 27, 2006

Beirut- Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Sunday that the issue of a prisoner exchange between his movement and Israel had been broached, and he expressed regret for the month-long war between Israel and his militia. Nasrallah, in an interview aired by Lebanese broadcaster New TV on the eve of UN chief Kofi Annan's arrival in Beirut, warned that the 15,000-strong international force which is to begin deploying in coming days along the border with Israel should not seek to disarm Hezbollah.

"We have no problem with UNIFIL (UN Interim Force in Lebanon) as long as its mission is not aimed at disarming Hezbollah," Nasrallah said in his second interview since the UN-brokered ceasefire on August 14.

Nasrallah said that there "will be no armed presence in southern Lebanon, and if the army finds any armed Hezbollah they can confiscate the weapons."

"The issue of the prisoners has been opened again, and Italy has asked to intervene," Nasrallah was quoted as telling New Television, which has close links with Hezbollah.

He said that the United Nations had shown interest in taking part in the talks.

"All negotiations regarding a swap between our movement and Israel will be led by House Speaker Nabih Berri," Nasrallah said.

He expressed readiness to meet with Annan on Monday.

"I have no problems to meet him, and there are preparatory contacts to prepare for such a meeting, but the only obstacle is security," Nasrallah said.

Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12, prompting Israel to launch a 33-day offensive in Lebanon, which killed more than 1,000 Lebanese and left 3,600 wounded.

Asked if any of the Hezbollah guerrillas who participated in the seizure of the two Israeli soldiers on the board had been captured by Israeli troops in southern Lebanon, Nasrallah said: "The guerrillas who participated in snatching the two soldiers were all fighting on the front lines in southern Lebanon, and it may be possible that one of them was captured by the Israelis."

"If we knew that Israel would carry out such a widescale attack against Lebanon because of the two soldiers, we would not have captured them in the first place," he said.

Hezbollah has called on Israel to release Lebanese prisoners in Israeli prisons in return for the two soldiers.

Nasrallah said he would no longer participate "in the national dialogue round table" between Lebanese Muslim and Christians leaders, which started in March, as he feared for the safety of other participants.

Israel has threatened to hunt down and kill Nasrallah.

"Israel is trying by their daily violations to push Hezbollah to retaliate. ... We cannot be patient for so long, and I cannot give guarantees," Nasrallah said.

He emphasized his support for the Lebanese army deployed in southern Lebanon but noted that Lebanon was under pressure to deploy UNIFIL troops to the Beirut airport, ports and the northern border with Syria. "This is an Israeli demand," Nasrallah said.

Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said Friday that Lebanon will not accept deployment of UNIFIL troops on the Syrian border and stressed that only the Lebanese army would monitor that frontier. Lebanon has asked for technical assistance from Germany to help the army with its mission.

Nasrallah assured the Lebanese that there will not be a second round of violence with Israel.

"The refugees have returned, and we have started a widescale reconstruction operation, and such hints means that we are not heading towards a second round," Nasrallah said.

"If the UN peacekeepers and army deploy, and there are no more Israeli troops, there is no need for us to carry out any attack. But as long as there is an occupation over a Lebanese territory, we are a resistance, and we have the right to resist," the Hezbollah chief said.

Asked about the disputed Shebaa Farms territory, Nasrallah said: "As I said, if there is a Lebanese territory under occupation, it is the duty of the resistance to fight the occupation," he said without elaborating.

Israel says it seized the Shebaa Farms from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, but Lebanon claims Shebaa as Lebanese territory with Syrian consent.

Asked about his movement's rocket force, he said that more than 4,000 rockets fell on Israel, describing the bombardment as "less than 50 per cent of our military force."

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur