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Israel Frees 60 Lebanese in Prisoner Deal

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Dozens of Lebanese prisoners, some held for 13 years, were released by Israel on Friday and crossed to freedom in southern Lebanon, completing a swap between the two foes.

Thousands of relatives and well-wishers greeted the former prisoners as they arrived on three buses at a Lebanese army checkpoint at Kfar Falous, on the edge of the Israeli-occupied zone.

Prisoners smiled and waved as people broke into tears and showered rice on the buses in a traditional Arab welcome.

Soldiers tried to keep order as activists swarmed around the buses and on their roofs, shouting “Allahu akbar [God is great].”

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Earlier, Israel handed the 60 Lebanese prisoners over to the Red Cross in the second stage of a deal between Lebanon and Israel. Four chose to return to their homes in the occupied zone, and one decided to stay in Israel, Lebanese media quoted Red Cross officials as saying. The Red Cross mediated the exchange.

The first stage of the deal occurred late Thursday, when Lebanon exchanged the remains of Itamar Ilya, an Israeli naval commando killed in a botched raid in southern Lebanon in September, for the bodies of 40 Hezbollah, Amal and Communist guerrillas killed in clashes with Israeli forces. Lebanon received the bodies of the fighters with full military honors.

Most of the prisoners freed Friday were held without trial--some for as many as 13 years, according to Lebanese officials--on suspicion of aiding guerrillas fighting Israeli forces.

Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and National Assembly Speaker Nabih Berri were expected to greet the prisoners in Sidon later in the day.

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Lebanese officials said that, with the release, 167 prisoners remain in the Khiam detention camp in the Israeli-occupied zone or in Israel.

Anis Fouani, 63, said he felt “extreme happiness and joy” as he awaited the arrival of his son, Ali, who was 17 when Israeli forces took him from his home in the occupied zone and jailed him in Khiam 13 years ago.

In 1985, Israel declared the border strip that it occupies a “security zone” to protect northern Israeli towns from attacks.


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