Hezbollah, Israeli prisoner swap set for Thursday
Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum was abducted by Hezbollah in October 2000.
The prisoner exchange is expected within days.
BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Israel and Hezbollah were expected to begin a historic prisoner exchange in Germany this week, the chief of the Lebanese militia group said Sunday.
After years of difficult, secret negotiations, Israel and Hezbollah agreed to the German-brokered exchange -- a dramatic breakthrough after the adversaries traded fire this week along the tense Israeli-Lebanese border. Israel, Hezbollah and Germany all confirmed the swap.
The first stage of the swap is expected to happen Thursday, according to Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who provided details of the exchange.
A plane containing Israel's prisoners would fly from Tel Aviv to an undisclosed airfield in Germany, according to the Hezbollah leader. From Lebanon, a second plane containing the captured Israeli and the bodies of three others would also fly to the German airfield, Nasrallah said.
Israel to release 35 prisoners
According to the German government, the deal calls for Israel to release 35 prisoners, including two senior Hezbollah officials -- Mustafa Dirani and Abdel Karim Obeid.
The 35 include 23 Lebanese, five Syrians, three Moroccans, three Sudanese and one Libyan.
Also as part of the agreement, Israel will release 400 Palestinian prisoners to the West Bank and Gaza, Germany said, adding that Israel also has agreed to free German citizen Stephan Smyrek, who worked with the Hezbollah militia.
In addition, the deal calls for Israel to provide Lebanon with information on 24 missing Lebanese, Germany said. Israel also is to give Lebanon the bodies of 59 Lebanese citizens killed by Israeli forces. Germany also said the agreement calls on Israel to provide maps from Israel Defense Forces locating mines along the Israeli-Lebanese border.
Hezbollah to free Israeli businessman
Hezbollah officials Mustafa Dirani, right, and Abdel Karim Obeid appear in an Israeli court in May 2000.
In exchange, Hezbollah would release Elhanan Tennenbaum -- an abducted Israeli businessman and army reserve colonel -- and the bodies of three Israel Defense Forces soldiers who are presumed to have been killed in action.
The IDF soldiers -- missing since October 2000 -- were identified by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's media office as Sgt. Adi Avitan, Staff Sgt. Benyamin Avraham and Staff Sgt. Omar Sawaid.
"With this agreement, Israel and Hezbollah have achieved a breakthrough in seeking to soothe one of the most painful consequences of the Middle East conflict," Germany said in a statement.
An Israeli statement said, "The government of Israel expresses its deep appreciation for the continuing efforts of the German government in helping to bring our boys back home."
"The government of Israel will continue its efforts to fully implement the arrangement, and reiterates its commitment to take any action and make every effort, and not to rest, until all POWs and MIAs are returned to Israel," the statement said.
Chance to review controversial case
The agreement is based on a November Israeli Cabinet agreement-in-principle, which was delayed because of disagreements over Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar. Kuntar carried out an attack in Israel in 1979.
Hezbollah wanted Kuntar to be part of the deal, but Israel refused to release prisoners with "blood on their hands."
However, Kuntar's case now may be reviewed. Israel said Saturday that "with this arrangement, a mechanism has been put in place whose aim is to bring substantial information on the fate of captured navigator Ron Arad, and his return home."
"According to that arrangement, the Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar will be released after Israel receives substantial proof about the fate of Ron Arad," Israel said.
Israel has been holding Obeid and Dirani -- kidnapped in Lebanon by Israeli commandos -- as bargaining chips for the release of Arad, whose plane went down over Lebanon in 1986.
The agreement comes during increasing tensions along the Israeli-Lebanese border.
On Tuesday, Israel Defense Forces said its warplanes had attacked two Hezbollah bases in the central and western areas of southern Lebanon.
No reports of casualties or damage at the targets were available.
Tuesday's attack came a day after the IDF said Hezbollah guerrillas killed an Israeli soldier along the border. (Full story)
CNN's Yoav Appel in Jerusalem and Brent Sadler in Beirut contributed to this report.