BEIRUT, Lebanon Hezbollah's leader on Wednesday confirmed for the first time that his group will hand over two captured Israeli soldiers and information on a missing Israeli airman in exchange for five Lebanese prisoners in Israel.
Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said the U.N.-brokered exchange would take place in mid-July. It was approved by Israel's Cabinet on Sunday.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he believes the two soldiers, snatched in a July 2006 cross-border raid that sparked a war between Israel and Hezbollah, are dead.
Hezbollah has never confirmed that, and the Red Cross has not been allowed access.
Speaking to a Beirut news conference by video link, Nasrallah said he had not given Israel any indication of the soldiers' fate. He called reports that they are dead "speculation...not based on anything tangible."
All the Lebanese prisoners slated to be freed by Israel are alive. The longest-held prisoner, Samir Kantar, was serving multiple life terms for infiltrating northern Israel in 1979 and killing three Israelis a man, his 4-year-old daughter and a police officer.
Word of Kantar's inclusion stirred emotions in Israel because of the grisly nature of his crime witnesses said he crushed the little girl's skull and his release could set a new standard for how far Israel is willing to go to repatriate its soldiers.
Kantar denies crushing the girl's skull, saying she was killed in the exchange of fire.
Nasrallah also said he would provide a thorough report with information on missing airman Ron Arad, whose plane crashed in Lebanon in 1986. His fate has been unknown.
Nasrallah said he has reached "absolute conclusions" about what happened to Arad after four years of investigations. He did not elaborate. A United Nations-appointed German mediator will arrive in Lebanon within two days to get a detailed report about Arad, he said.
The bearded, bespectacled Shiite Muslim cleric called negotiations over the prisoner exchange "long, tough and complicated," and described the results as a "new victory" for Lebanon.
The deal has been praised in Lebanon even by Hezbollah's critics, including U.S. and Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, who described it as a "national success."
Israel will also receive the remains of some of its soldiers killed in the Lebanon war, and has agreed to release dozens of bodies and an undisclosed number of Palestinian prisoners.