Hizbullah leader: we regret the two kidnappings that led to war with Israel
Hizbullah last night admitted it would
not have captured the two Israeli soldiers last month had it known a
war would follow.
Hizbullah crossed into north Israel early on July 12 and captured Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Eight other Israeli soldiers were killed, and within hours Israel and Hizbullah were plunged into their most serious conflict. By the time of the ceasefire 34 days later, more than 1,100 people were dead in Lebanon and 157 in Israel, mostly soldiers."We did not think, even one percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude," Hassan Nasrallah, the cleric who leads Hizbullah, told Lebanon's New TV channel. "You ask me, if I had known on July 11 ... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not." He said Italy would play a part in negotiating the soldiers' eventual release. "Contacts recently began for negotiations," he said. "It seems that Italy is trying to get into the subject." From the start, Mr Nasrallah has said he wanted to exchange the soldiers for Lebanese and Palestinians held in Israel.
Sergio de Gregorio, head of Italy's senate defence committee, said that Iran, Hizbullah's backer, wanted Italy involved. Mr de Gregorio told Reuters he expected talks to start this week. He said the two Israelis were "still alive, fortunately", but would not talk about how they were or what kind of deal might free them.
An Egyptian newspaper reported that German diplomats had helped negotiate a deal to have them freed in two or three weeks. A number of Lebanese held by Israel would be freed in return a day or two later, it said.
A second deal to free Corporal Gilad Shalit, captured near Gaza in June, was also imminent, the paper said. The Israeli government has said repeatedly that it would not strike a deal with the Palestinians to secure his release.
Yesterday, two Fox News journalists kidnapped in Gaza were released. Steve Centanni, 60, and Olaf Wiig, 36, were driven to Israel after a two-week ordeal.
Since the war ended, the Israeli government has come under growing pressure from critics in the press and the army angry at the handling of the war.
In particular, soldiers complain that Israel failed to emerge from the conflict with a convincing victory over Hizbullah or with the release of the two soldiers. Protests have demanded the resignation of prime minister Ehud Olmert and his defence minister, Amir Peretz.
Many people have also called for a state commission of inquiry, a quasi-judicial investigation into the government's handling of the war. So far, Mr Olmert has refused to give in; a state commission was not even raised yesterday at his weekly cabinet meeting.
Mr Nasrallah also said he did not expect a renewed conflict, even though many others are worried about the ceasefire lasting. "We are not heading to a second round," he said.
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