AL QUDS, Nov 9: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s cabinet narrowly approved on Sunday a prisoner exchange with the Lebanese group Hezbollah that had run into strong opposition in Israel over the exclusion of a long-missing Israeli airman.

After an almost eight-hour debate, the cabinet voted 12-11 in favour of the swap supported by Sharon, Israel Television and Radio said.

Some 400 jailed Palestinians and Lebanese are to be traded for a kidnapped Israeli businessman and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers. It was not immediately clear when or where the exchange would take place.

The swap had run into opposition in Israel over Sharon’s willingness to release the prisoners without receiving in return information about the fate of Ron Arad, who parachuted from his fighter-bomber over Lebanon in 1986 and was last seen in 1987.

Arad has become a national icon in Israel and his family mounted a public campaign against the exchange, accusing Sharon, a former general, of effectively abandoning a soldier on the battlefield.

Sharon said failure to approve the swap would have meant death for Elhanan Tannenbaum, an ex-army colonel abducted three years ago by a Hezbollah agent who enticed him to visit Abu Dhabi for what he thought would be a lucrative business deal. —Reuters

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