PARIS (Feb. 17)
The body of a Jewish hostage shot and badly beaten before his death was found Sunday morning in west Beirut. Ibrahim Benesti, 54, is the third Jewish hostage to be murdered in two months by a Shiite fundamentalist group.
The gang, “The Organization of the Oppressed of the World, said they have kidnapped two more Jewish hostages. They are believed to hold already five other Jews.
Benesti’s body was found dumped near a vegetable market in the Kaskas area, which borders on the green line separating de facto the Christian east from the predominantly Moslem west Beirut. He had been shot once in the back of the head, but medical examiners say he had been badly tortured and beaten before his “execution.” His chest and stomach were covered with cuts, bruises and burns.
A statement found pinned on the body said he had been killed “for having been an Israeli spy” and as an example “to all other Israeli agents.” Police found in one of his pockets Polaroid photographs showing the victim and two other middle-aged bearded men with visible scars on their faces. They were identified as Yehuda and Yossef Benesti, presumably members of the same family. Yehuda Benesti was reported last year as one of the seven Lebanese Jews who were abducted last spring.
Two months ago “The Organization of the Oppressed of the World” murdered two other Jewish hostages, Prof. Isaac Tarrah, 59, and Haim Cohen Halala, 38. Since these killings, most members of Beirut’s already small Jewish community are said to have fled. Some reports say there are now less than 20 Jews left in the city.
The group had also claimed responsibility for the hijacking of a TWA airliner to Beirut in June 1985. The hijackers had then demanded that Israel set free all Shiite prisoners held in Israel and in south Lebanon. Israel had refused to deal with them or give in to their demands.
STATEMENT FOUND ON BENESTI’S BODY
The statement found pinned to the group’s latest victim renewed this demand. It said that 300 Shiites are being held prisoners by the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army in a camp near the Israeli border. The SLA has refused to free the prisoners it holds in Khiam, some 20 miles north of the border.
The group also said Benesti had been killed to protest “Israel’s violation” of the El Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It called the victim “a pillar of Israeli espionage in Lebanon.” The dead man was known, Jewish circles said in Paris, as a quiet businessman who minded his own business. He settled in Beirut, coming from Sidon, 35 years ago. It is not known if he was married and had children.
There are still contradictory reports on how many Jewish hostages are still held by the terrorists. According to most counts and to the terrorists themselves, the group now holds five of the original seven kidnapped in spring 1985, plus the two kidnapped last week. Some private sources say the terrorists might only hold a total of six as they could be counting one man, known by two names, twice.