Image: Poster of Nasrallah
Jamal Saidi  /  Reuters file
A poster of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah hangs Aug. 22 near the rubble of a damaged building in Beirut's southern suburbs.
updated 8/27/2006 7:22:50 PM ET 2006-08-27T23:22:50

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.

Hezbollah guerrillas killed three Israeli soldiers and seized two more in a cross-border raid July 12, which sparked 34 days of fighting that ended Aug. 14. Five other Israeli soldiers were killed as they pursued the militants back into Lebanon.

“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.

Nasrallah also said the United Nations and Italy already had initiated “contacts” about beginning negotiations on a prisoner swap.

Israeli officials have been refusing to comment on the record about the prospects of a prisoner exchange, citing the extreme sensitivity of the issue.

But 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.

“The Israelis have acknowledged that this (issue) is headed for negotiations and a (prisoners) exchange,” he said. “Contacts recently began for negotiations.”

Prisoner exchange in the works?
He 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.

“The Italians seem to be getting close and are trying to get into the subject. The United Nations is interested,” Nasrallah said.

The guerrilla leader did not specify in which 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.

He added that the subject would be discussed during U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s visit to Beirut on Monday. He said “some contacts” had been made to arrange a meeting between him and Annan, but that it was unlikely for security reasons. Nasrallah went into hiding on the first day of the war and his whereabouts are unknown.

He said in the interview Sunday that he had no doubt that the Israelis “would not hesitate” to kill him if they knew where he was hiding.

Nasrallah also said he did not believe a second bout of fighting would break out with Israel. “The current Israeli situation, and the available givens tell us that we are not heading to another round,” he said.

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