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Hezbollah Head Says He Didn't Expect War

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By ZEINA KARAM
The Associated Press
Monday, August 28, 2006; 2:45 AM

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in a TV interview aired Sunday that he would not have ordered the capture of two Israeli soldiers if he had known it would lead to such a war.

Guerrillas from the Islamic militant group killed three Israeli soldiers and seized two more in a cross-border raid July 12, which sparked 34 days of fighting that ended with a cease-fire on Aug. 14.

"We did not think, even 1 percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. 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 in an interview with Lebanon's New TV station.

He also said Italy and the United Nations had made contacts to help mediate a prisoner swap with Israel, but did not specify whether they had contacted Hezbollah directly. He did not say in what capacity Italy had expressed interest _ on its own or on Israel's behalf.

Nasrallah said Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri was in charge of the negotiations and the subject would be discussed during U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's visit to Beirut on Monday.

There had been "some contacts" to arrange a meeting between him and Annan, he said, but that was unlikely for security reasons.

"The Italians seem to be getting close and are trying to get into the subject. The United Nations is interested," Nasrallah said. "The Israelis have acknowledged that this (issue) is headed for negotiations and a (prisoners) exchange."

A senior Israeli government official declined to comment on such contacts, saying only that Israel "does not negotiate with terrorists" and continues to demand the unconditional release of the two soldiers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

Earlier Sunday, Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres said no negotiations were being held on a prisoner release.

"Right now no, but I expect that concerning the prisoners in the north, we shall have to wait until the Lebanese government will take charge completely over its land in accordance with the U.N. resolution," he said.

Israeli military officials said earlier this month that Israel is holding 13 Hezbollah prisoners and the bodies of dozens of guerrillas that it could swap for the two captive soldiers, but would not include any Palestinian prisoners in such a deal.

Also Sunday, 245 French soldiers arrived at Beirut's airport to help the Lebanese army rebuild bridges destroyed or damaged by Israeli air strikes.


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