A UN-mediated prisoner exchange deal has been signed by Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia movement.
On Monday, the office of Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, and a Lebanese political source said a date for the swap will be settled this week.
Israeli forces have begun digging up the bodies of Lebanese fighters to be exchanged in the agreement.
The exhumation of the body began on Monday at the Amiad cemetery, near Israel-Lebanon border, said an Israeli army spokeswoman, addind that it would take a number of days to complete the process.
“We expect the deal to move ahead, and it is possible we will have [Eldad] Regev and [Ehud] Goldwasser back in Israel next week”, a senior Israeli government official in Jerusalem said.
The two army reservists were captured by the Hezbollah during a cross-border raid which that triggered a war in 2006 between the group and Israel.
Before his cabinet approved the deal, Ehud Olmert declared the two soldiers dead, as Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, has not allowed aid agencies to visit the soldiers. But Mr Nasrallah called the declaration “speculation”.
The completion of the deal still depends on a number of components being finalised, after which the prime minister’s cabinet would vote to give it final approval, said an Israeli government statement.
A demand for further information on Ron Arad, a pilot captured alive in 1986, after his aeroplane was shot down over Lebanon, is included.
In order to pick up the report that Hezbollah has compiled a report on Ron Arad, an Israeli negociator was in Europe on Monday, said defence officials.
“So far, we have not received the report concerning the fate of our missing navigator, Ron Arad”, said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr Olmert.
“When that report is received, we will have discussions inside the government on how to move forward.”
The deal, saying that the Jewish state will release five Lebanese prisoners and Hezbollah will hand over two Israeli soldier has been signed by both Mr Nasrallah and Mr Olmer.
Samir Kantar, the most prominent Lebanese prisoners held by Israel is included in the deal. For killing a police officer, a man and his four-year-old daughter during a 1979 raid on the northern coastal town of Nahariya, Mr Kantar is serving a life sentence.
On Monday, the family of the police officer appealed to Israel’s supreme court to block the exchange.
“Don’t release Kantar. He is a despicable mass murderer, and Israel will be sorry in the end”, said Keren Shahar, the dead policeman’s daughter.
The deal, negociated by Gerhard Conard, a UN envoy, says that, while Hezbollah would return the body parts of Israeli soldiers killed in southern Lebanon in 2006, Israel will hand over the bodies of about 200 Arab fighters killed while infiltrating northern Israel.
The bodies of eight Hezbollah fighters, as well as Palestinian and Lebanese fighters killed in decades of conflict with Israel, are included in the deal.