Israels high court frees eight Lebanese prisoners

It was not immediately clear whether the ruling applied to seven other Lebanese prisoners, who were not included in the petition submitted to the court.

They include the two most prominent detainees, Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani. Both are Shi'ite fundamentalist leaders who were kidnapped during Israeli commando raids in Lebanon.

They have been held by Israel as bargaining chips for the return of Israeli airman navigator Ron Arad, who bailed out of his fighter plane over Lebanon in 1986 and is believed to have been held by pro-Iranian troops there.

Shortly after the court issued its decision, Israeli officials said 13 of the 15 Lebanese detainees would be freed next week but did not identify the two who would remain in detention.

Wednesday's ruling overturned a previous high court decision in which a panel of three justified the detention of prisoners as bargaining chips.

Human rights groups have long criticized Israel's practice of administrative detention, which is imprisonment without trial.

Arad's mother condemned the decision and said the court had "betrayed" her son.

"The court lost its senses," Batya Arad said.

Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, the army's chief of staff, said he would honor the ruling but added that the army backed the detentions because "we believed that by doing so there was a chance to enhance our ability to bring Ron Arad home."

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