Israel: A history of prisoner deals

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The Independent Online

Israel has a history of negotiating prisoner exchanges with her enemies, who have often used hostage taking as a political tool.

In 1985 Israel agreed to the release of more than 1,150 Palestinian prisoners in return for three soldiers taken captive in Lebanon.

Almost 20 years later, a similar deal was reached with the militant group Hizbullah, in which years of German-brokered negotiations led to an agreement between Israel and the militants in early 2004 to release more than 400 militants in exchange for the businessman Tannenbaum Elhanan, who had been captured four years earlier, and the bodies of three soldiers.

Despite a suicide bomber killing 10 Israelis on the day of the prisoners' release, the exchange went ahead without a hitch. Hizbullah arranged for the soldier's remains to be flown to Germany for identification, while Israel began shipping busses filled with former prisoners to Lebanon. Two high-profile guerrilla leaders were among those released, as well as a German national, Stephen Smyrek, who had been caught working for Hizbullah in 1997.

Hamas have also benefited from prisoner exchanges in the past. In 1997, Israel was forced to release the group's spiritual leader, Shaikh Ahmed Yassin, after two Mossad agents were caught by Jordan on a botched mission to assassinate Khaled Mashaal, himself a Hamas leader.

King Hussein of Jordan demanded heavy concessions from Israel as the assassination attempt directly contravened an earlier peace agreement signed by the two countries.

The then Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was severely embarrassed by Yassin's release as the spiritual leader soon began speaking out again in favour of suicide bombings.

An Israeli helicopter gunship later assassinated the Yassin in 2004 as he left early morning prayers.

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