Israeli hero's body returns in gory exchange

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IN A gory exchange Israel was expecting last night to receive the body of Sergeant Itamar Ilya, a naval commando killed in an ambush in Lebanon last year, in return for 60 Lebanese prisoners and the bodies of 40 guerrillas killed by Israel in fighting in southern Lebanon.

Hizbollah and Amal, the two Lebanese guerrilla groups fighting Israel's occupation of south Lebanon, each held part of the body of Sgt Ilya, one of 12 Israelis killed in a disastrous raid last September. His remains were then to be flown on a French plane to Tel Aviv, where they will be identified by the army chief rabbi.

Once Israel is assured that it has received the right body, the remains of 40 guerrillas, 28 from Hizbollah, nine from Amal and three Communists will be flown to Beirut. They will include the body of Hadi Nasrallah, the son of the leader of Hizbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who was killed in action in southern Lebanon last year.

Israel will also release 50 Lebanese prisoners from al-Khiam, a prison maintained by the South Lebanon Army, a militia group in south Lebanon paid for and armed by Israel. A further 10 prisoners held in Israel will be released. Most prisoners are associated with Hizbollah and Amal, but Israel has admitted holding some Lebanese purely for the purposes of exchange.

The bodies of the Lebanese guerrillas were dug up overnight and put in makeshift coffins. Amal said of the remains of Sgt Ilya: "The skin was handed over this afternoon to the leadership of the Lebanese army." The rest of his body, blown apart by explosives he was carrying, was held by Hizbollah. The remains of the other 11 Israelis killed last year were recovered at the time.

Underlining that the war in south Lebanon is continuing, two Israelis were killed and three seriously wounded yesterday when they were caught by two Hizbollah bombs during a night-time patrol.

Lieutenant Amit Asulin, 21, and Sgt Or Cohen, 19, were killed by the explosions near the village of Tallouse, in the central section of the Israeli occupation zone.

The deaths yesterday bring to eight the numbers of Israelis killed this year, compared to 39 who died last year. The fall in the number of casualties has led to some diminution in pressure on the Israeli government to pull out, which developed last year.

Meanwhile in Gaza, Sheikh Yassin, the leader of the militant organisation Hamas, told a news conference that Hamas would join the cabinet of the Palestinian Authority if Yasser Arafat, its leader, renounced the Oslo agreement with Israel. Sheikh Yassin also offered Israel a cease-fire if it would return to its borders before it captured the West Bank in 1967.