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Israeli Cabinet approves Hezbollah prisoner deal

A recent poll by Israel's Dahaf Research Institute showed that 65 percent of those questioned said Kantar should be released in exchange for the two soldiers held by Hezbollah, even if it was not known whether they are dead or alive.

The soldiers' families had mounted a concerted public campaign to get the government to approve the deal. Family and friends demonstrated outside Olmert's office while the ministers were deliberating.

Karnit Goldwasser said troops would be less willing to fight for their country if they sensed their country had wavered in its commitment to its soldiers.

Some Cabinet ministers took the same view. "I believe in this deal with all my heart. There's no room for hesitation, not to agree to the deal is to erase our obligation to bring back every soldier," Cabinet Minister Meir Sheetrit said ahead of the meeting.

Other politicians were afraid the emotional appeals of the soldiers' families could lead the government to bend sacred principles.

"If they are dead, I certainly oppose this deal," dovish lawmaker Yossi Beilin told Israel Radio. "The principle must be releasing live prisoners for live hostages, and releasing bodies in return for the fallen."

In addition to the two captured soldiers held in Lebanon, Israel is trying to win back a third soldier captured by Palestinian militants in a June 2006 cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip.

Sgt. Gilad Schalit has sent letters and an audio tape to his parents and is believed to be alive, though he has not been seen since his capture and the Red Cross has not been permitted to visit him.

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© 2008 The Associated Press