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More Fallout Over Israel-Hezbollah War

An Israeli general who played a major role in the Lebanon war has resigned, while human rights groups in Lebanon are collecting evidence that could be used in war crimes trials against Israel.

Meanwhile, a controversial prisoner swap could be in the works between Israel and Hezbollah.

Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, who was pushed aside by the army chief during the Lebanon war, was the head of northern command, and responsible for the war against Hezbollah. reports Adam was seen as too cautious and hesitant.

Adam is the first senior official to resign amid a growing public perception that the army and government mishandled the war. Israelis want to know why the strongest army in the middle East failed to score a decisive victory against Hezbollah.

The possible war crimes would be filed under a legal principle known as universal jurisdiction, which says that war crimes are so serious they can be prosecuted anywhere — not just where they were committed.

Israeli aircraft and artillery killed more than 850 Lebanese during the 34-day conflict, most of them civilians, and left a moonscape of ruin. Hezbollah pummeled northern Israel with thousands of rockets that killed 39 civilians among the total Israeli war dead of 159.

In other developments:

  • Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, responding to Lebanese guerrillas' prisoner exchange demands, acknowledged on Wednesday that a Lebanese militant held in a deadly 1979 raid was at the center of talks to free two Israeli soldiers. Israel has refused in previous swaps to free Samir Kantar, convicted of killing a man and his young daughter in an attack on their house.
  • Israel's parliament on Wednesday granted Israeli President Moshe Katsav's request to temporarily step down from his largely-ceremonial position for one day in light of a police investigation into accusations he sexually harassed former employees. Katsav did not want to preside over the swearing-in of the new chief justice of the Supreme Court.
  • A Jewish-American businessman who has donated money to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert bought a home owned by the Olmert family for 30 percent more than its market value in the mid-1990s, the Haaretz daily reported Wednesday. The questionable purchase would mark the third Jerusalem real estate scandal involving the prime minister in recent months.

    Israeli media reported that Adam had several disagreements with Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the army chief, during the war. Military analysts said Adam was seen as too cautious and hesitant and Halutz appointed Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinski, the deputy army chief, to command the war while the fighting was still raging.

    The month of battles against Hezbollah ended in August with a U.N.-brokered cease-fire but without a decisive victory for Israel.

    Rights groups and the U.N. condemned Israel's overwhelming use of force in the aftermath of a cross-border raid July 12 in which Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers as prisoners, saying it caused far too many civilian casualties.

  • The U.N. also has harshly criticized Israel's use of cluster bombs in the last days of the conflict. The world body's humanitarian chief Jan Egeland last month called the cluster bomb attacks "completely immoral."

    At the request of Islamic nations, the United Nations Human Rights Council in August established a commission of experts to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes — a move that was denounced by human rights groups and voted against by European nations, Japan and Canada because it failed to set up a similar probe into Hezbollah's deadly hail of rockets.

    However, the council has no power to punish countries. And despite the international investigation, prosecution by the International Criminal Court in The Hague is considered unlikely because neither Israel nor Lebanon accepts its jurisdiction.

    Israelis also are more likely to be caught in other countries where they could be tried because they travel overseas far more than Hezbollah representatives.

    Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, whose Hezbollah militant group is holding two Israeli soldiers, demanded on Tuesday that Kantar be freed as a condition of any exchange.

    Asked about Kantar, Peretz did not rule out the possibility of releasing the Lebanese militant.

    "There is no doubt that Samir Kantar is one of the central questions being dealt with in any negotiation of this type," Peretz told Israel Radio on Wednesday. "But I suggest that we allow this issue to be dealt with in a very, very secret, very serious, very significant manner."

    Releasing Kantar would be an extremely charged political decision because of the brutality of the raid. After bursting into a building in northern Israel, he shot a man in front of his 4-year-old daughter, then killed the girl by smashing her head against a rocket with his rifle butt.

    The man's wife, who had hidden in a crawl space in the family's apartment, held her hand over the mouth of their 2-year-old daughter to keep her from crying out. In trying to save their lives, the mother smothered the child.

    Although Israel has rejected calls for a prisoner swap and the U.N. cease-fire ending the Lebanon war called for the soldiers' unconditional release, Israel has exchanged prisoners in the past. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said he will appoint a mediator to broker indirect talks between Israel and the Islamic militant group on the servicemen's release.

    On Tuesday, Nasrallah said he accepted the U.N. mediation, and that the envoy would launch talks next week.

    Kantar is serving prison terms totaling 542 years in the 1979 attack.

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