World leaders see prisoner exchange as positive step

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he is encouraged by an exchange of prisoners that took place between Israel and Lebanon’s Hizbullah on Wednesday. Ban said at a news conference in Berlin that he hoped it will be the beginning of many to come.

He praised the “leadership and initiative” of a UN-appointed mediator, Gerhard Konrad, who shuttled between the sides for 18 months to mediate Wednesday’s exchange.

Ban said he also hopes for progress in the case of an Israeli soldier seized by Palestinian gunmen affiliated with Hamas. He said he hoped Sergeant Gilad Schalit would be released as soon as possible.

The Islamist Palestinian movement Hamas said the Wednesday prisoner swap was a “victory for the resistance.”

“Hamas considers the exchange of prisoners between Hizbullah and the Israeli occupation to be a great victory for the resistance and Hizbullah,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement.

“It proves that a useful way to liberate prisoners from the jails of the occupation is to capture Zionist soldiers, since the occupation refuses to release prisoners and keeps arresting more of them,” it added.

The reaction came as Israel and Hizbullah were in the process of exchanging the remains of two Israeli soldiers captured in 2006 for five Lebanese prisoners and the remains of some 200 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters.

European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner also commented on Wednesday’s exchange of prisoners between Hizbullah and Israel.

“I am satisfied that this exchange of prisoners finally takes place. We have called for this on many occasions during the past two years and now it becomes a reality,” she said in a statement released by the European Commission in Beirut on Wednesday.

“First and foremost this is a positive step taken by both sides,” Ferrero-Waldner added.

She said the families of all persons missing have a right to know about the fate of their beloved relatives, irrespective of how painful this news might be.

“And I do think that those whose loved ones have died deserve to receive the remains for burial,” she added.

Waldner said Wednesday’s exchange was also a step toward the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and therefore contributes to regional stability. “I commend the UN and all those who contributed for their role played in making this exchange of prisoners possible,” she added.

“I do hope that we will see further steps in this direction as this region and its people deserve to be able to live in peace and stability,” Waldner added. –

Ref: Daily Star

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