Bodies of Hezbollah fighters may be 'bargaining chips'

Israeli troops are collecting bodies of Hezbollah fighters killed in Lebanon and storing them in refrigerated containers in Israel, the army said today.

Israel used bodies of Hezbollah fighters as a bargaining chip in a previous prisoner swap with the Lebanese guerrilla group, and security officials said bodies were being collected for the same reason this time.

The military would not say why it is keeping the bodies.

Israel has said it would not negotiate with Hezbollah over the release of two Israeli soldiers the group captured earlier this month.

The army said six bodies of Hezbollah fighters have been brought back to Israel. An army spokesman said the bodies are being held in refrigerators until Israel’s political leaders decide what to do with them.

Israel has special cemeteries for Palestinian and Lebanese militants killed in fighting with Israel.

The quick burial of complete bodies is important in both the Jewish and Muslim faiths.

In early 2004, Israel swapped three dead Israeli soldiers and a kidnapped Israeli businessman for hundreds of Arab prisoners and scores of guerrilla corpses.

Heavy fighting between Hezbollah and Israel began almost two weeks ago after the Islamist militant group kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

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