James Hider
The Times
June 2, 2008 - 4:02pm

A macabre exchange took place on the Israeli-Lebanese border yesterday: a box of body parts from Israeli soldiers killed in the 2006 war was ferried over by the Red Cross, while the Israelis handed over a man convicted of spying for Hezbollah.

Both sides insisted their decisions had been unilateral, not co-ordinated, but the transfer raised speculation of more deals. Hezbollah said it was confident that more operatives would be released, possibly in return for two Israeli soldiers it captured in 2006.

Israel is holding about ten Lebanese prisoners. The most important is Samir Qantar, who took part in an attack in 1979 that killed two Israeli men and a four-year-old girl. Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister, was due to leave for Washington today for what some Israelis see as his farewell visit to George W. Bush, his mentor and friend. Mr Olmert's Kadima party is to meet when he returns to decide whether to hold primary elections or pick a new leader, after Mr Olmert became embroiled in a corruption inquiry.

The crisis has raised fears for the shaky peace talks that Mr Olmert was steering with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President. That process suffered another blow when the Israeli Housing Ministry announced it was building 884 more houses in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital.


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