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SHIITE PRISONERS URGE HOSTAGE EXCHANGE

Two men identified as Shiite Muslims held by an Israeli-controlled militia urged their spiritual leader Friday to arrange a prisoner swap that could free Western hostages.

The broadcast appeared to be an Israeli attempt to encourage Shiite leaders in Lebanon to arrange a prisoner exchange.It was made on the eve of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice, a traditional time for the pardon and release of prisoners throughout the Muslim world.

Earlier this week, Israel announced that it planned to release 300 Palestinians on Saturday to mark the holiday. However, it denied the release was connected with a prisoner exchange.

In Friday's broadcast on the South Lebanon Army radio, two men implored Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the spiritual leader of the Hezbollah, to arrange the exchange.

"We plead with the spiritual guide of Hezbollah and all those concerned who are active in the hostage issue to act swiftly on finalizing an operation to swap the prisoners and detainees at Khiam prison for the foreign hostages, the Israeli servicemen and South Lebanon Army members held by the Lebanese groups," said a man identified as Samir Kassem.

The pro-Iranian Hezbollah, or Party of God, is believed to be linked with Shiite extremists holding most of the 13 Western hostages.