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Israeli Soldier, Missing in Lebanon for 2 Years, is Alive and Well

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An Austrian diplomat arrived here yesterday with proof that an Israeli soldier, Hezi Shai, reported missing in Lebanon two years ago is alive and well, a prisoner of a Palestinian dissident group in Damascus.

Herbert Amry, Austria’s Ambassador to Greece, also confirmed that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a breakaway faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, headed by Ahmed Jibril will permit representatives of the International Red Cross, for the first time, to visit Shai and two other Israel Defense Force soldiers.

The latter, Nissim Salem and Yosef Grof, were known to be captives of Jibrils’ group. But Shai’s family had heard nothing of his fate nor did the IDF apparently know whether he was dead or alive.

Amry appeared at a press conference here today with Maj. Gen. Amos Yaron, head of the IDF manpower branch, former MK Shmuel Tamir who coordinates the government’s activities with respect to prisoner-of-war exchanges and another former MK, Arye Eliav, who, through contacts in the Austrian government, has obtained news of Israeli POWs captured in the Lebanon war.

Amry brought the families of the three soldiers letters, personal messages and photographs he had taken with each of the men at their places of captivity last week. He disclosed that the three Israelis were being held separately and had no contact with each other. The envoy said he did not know the locations that he was taken to for the meetings except that they were in or near Damascus.

DIDN’T KNOW HE BECOME A FATHER

He said Shai, a tank soldier, looked remarkably fit after two years in prison. He was not aware that he was the father of a two-year-old daughter, his wife having given birth shortly after he was posted missing in Lebanon.

Tamir said Jibril’s group acknowledged that Shai was their prisoner only after many months of quiet diplomacy and trips by Amry between Damascus and Tel Aviv via his legation in Athens. He said the fact that about 120 PLO men, most of them members of Jibril’s group, are still held prisoner in Israel apparently decided Jibril to permit Red Cross visits and to admit that Shai was being held.

According to Amry, this development brings closer the start of negotiations for a POW exchange between Israel and the Jibril group. But Tamir predicted that the negotiations, when they do begin, will be long and difficult.

Gen. Yaron said that the IDF has sufficient intelligence data to refute reports from Beirut that an IDF Druze soldier, Samir Assad, was killed when the Israel Air Force and Navy bombarded terrorist bases on Anarib island off the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli a week ago.

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