Israel releases Lebanese but will seek to change law

Security cabinet ministers, however, also decided to initiate legislation that would give the government the legal right to hold detainees it deemed "illegal fighters" as bargaining chips.

The decision to pursue such legislation is apparently aimed at keeping two Shi'ite fundamentalist leaders, Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani, behind bars.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak convened the security cabinet after the Supreme Court ruled the previous week that Israel's defense minister could not hold onto individuals as "living human" bargaining chips for the return of the MIAs.

Families of missing and captured Israeli soldiers criticized the ruling, saying it was depriving the Israeli defense establishment of a key tool to try to obtain information about the soldiers and to secure their release.

The Lebanese men have been held by Israel — some more than 10 years — 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.

Israel asserts that Dirani and Obeid, who were both kidnapped from Lebanon in Israeli raids, had direct links to Arad.

A statement issued after the meeting said the security cabinet would make a special effort to ensure the continued detention of Obeid and Dirani to try to obtain information on the fate of Arad and other missing servicemen and return them as soon as possible to Israel.

In the meantime, prosecutors on April 18 asked the Tel Aviv district court to extend the detention of the two Lebanese men on the grounds they endanger state security.

This argument stems directly from the high court ruling, which stated that the detention of a person could be extended only if their release posed such a threat.

Zvi Rish, the lawyer for the two detainees, called the argument a facade and said it appeared clear that the prosecutors' move was just a way to hold Dirani and Obeid without trial.